DUBAI: White Rabbit restaurant in Moscow may have been a name whispered among gourmands in the past, but it has become a worldwide sensation thanks to Russian chef Vladimir Mukhin. On Netflix’s “Chef’s Table,” the enigmatic Mukhin exuded boyish charm and genuine love for food. And he laid out his ambitions for White Rabbit unequivocally when he proclaimed: “I will do whatever it takes to bring the genuine Russian taste back to the people.”
But with great admiration comes great expectations.
Set in the Smolenskaya Passage — a shopping mall in the center of Moscow — White Rabbit’s location offers little to set the scene for what’s to come. But upon arriving at the 16th floor, we enter a giant glass atrium with an Alice in Wonderland (but all grown-up ) theme: Framed portraits of rabbits as royals in full garb, blooming flowers, formally dressed waiters, gold accents, and a hint of the eccentric at every turn. It’s all very dramatic and, frankly, wonderfully twee.
We booked an early dinner seating, which is highly recommended for the views alone. You’ll see the sunlight drape Moscow’s skyline — a combination of New York-esque skyscrapers alongside Soviet era architecture — in brilliant hues of dusky orange and pink, before it transforms into a dreamy, twinkly cityscape.
Our 14-course Russian Evolution tasting menu is an ode to tradition (be warned, not all dishes are suitable for Muslims). We begin with lardo — cured strips of fatback. It sounds wholly unappetizing, but thanks to Mukhin’s exotic twist — a refreshing bite of coconut — we find ourselves enjoying it.
It sets the pace perfectly and subsequent dishes are presented with more than a dash of theatricality. The sea scallops are soft and creamy, elevated thanks to the dusting of ‘eucalyptus snow’ added at the table. The ryazhenka is another highlight — our waitress blowtorching a layer of tangy rhubarb marshmallow into submission, creating a gooey medley of flavors when spooned into the fatty swan liver underneath.
It was a little disappointing that the service didn’t always match the food, with waitstaff alternating between being attentive and distracted — mostly the latter as the evening got busier.
The closing half of the tasting menu builds upon elements of the first — unique flavors, twists on the traditional, and artful presentation — but with renewed focus, like crashing waves upon the shore as opposed to the playful, teasing waters before. Bigger, bolder dishes glide out of the kitchen, led by the cabbage pie — Mukhin’s wood-stove interpretation is served with different varieties of caviar. Then comes a silky stew of cod, roasted crawfish and gooseberries, the latter ingredient also shining in the honey-wine sorbet creation, as well as the meaty beef-and-sorrel barbeque.
Doing away with clichéd chocolate mousse and honey cakes, dessert consists of erofeyich — a sour cream spectacular with fried hazelnuts and polugar; black bread with cream and seawater; and finally, the syta — a small gold chocolate ball served atop the antlers of a colorful moose. Inside, we’re told, are baked potatoes and porcini. It’s earthy yet light, with a slow reveal of cocoa and buttery truffle. It’s so delicate that we’re instructed to eat it directly off the stand without using our hands — an amusing way to end the meal.
Soon after, chef Mukhin casually wanders over and asks us what we thought. A little starstruck, we ramble on about our favorite dishes, visiting Moscow, and how very, very honored we were to learn more about Russian cuisine through his hands, so to speak. He takes it all in with a broad smile.
Yes, the restaurant serves contemporary Russian delights. Yes, its dishes are considered some of the best in the world. But with Mukhin, it’s always going to be playtime at White Rabbit.