The State of the Business Lunch in Moscow

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As we are enduring an economic crisis for the time being, more and more people are looking for ways to cut down on their personal expenditure, including eating out. Quite apart from wining and dining in the evening, which for most people is considered something of a treat, the majority of us encounter this conundrum at lunchtime. This comes in the guise of what to do, where to go, how long to take and how much to spend?

The more peripatetic among us would have come across various terms in Europe to entice us through the door. The British call it: ‘dish of the day;’ the French: ‘plat du jour;’ the Germans: ‘mittagstisch;’ the Italians: ‘piatti del giorno;’ and the piece de resistance goes to the Spanish with: ‘especialidades para el almuerzo!’ The Russians adopt the ‘k.i.s.s.’ notion (keep it simple, stupid) and call it ‘business lunch.’ With that in mind, I set off on my quest to discover what’s hot and what’s not, in terms of value for money in and around the business areas of downtown Moscow.

For the purpose of this exercise I decided that no alcohol will be included with lunch, even though a couple of places I visited offered beer or wine with their set menus. It is fair to say in today’s market very few people drink at lunchtime as this is frowned upon by bosses and work colleagues alike. This is a far cry from the halcyon days of 30 years plus ago when it was ‘de rigeur’ to visit the pub on a Friday lunchtime in the UK with a favoured client, have a pie and a pint (usually two or three if the truth be known!) and leave for home at 2.30 with a lucrative contract under your belt.

The first option, which is a great favourite due to its speed and simplicity, is to get a take-away or eat-in sandwich or baguette. The two most prominent outlets offering these are Prime and Subway. The former now has 44 outlets operating in the Moscow area and judging by my own experiences most people tend to use it as a take-away, thus saving on the rather expensive drinks on offer; the exception being the Kamergersky branch which was originally their flagship and still boasts a full café at lunchtimes. The wraps go for 149 roubles with such offerings as chicken satay, but it has to be said the preponderance of their contents are salad orientated. Baguettes go for 159 roubles and you can sometimes get lucky, but my experience is that the bread is quite hard on one’s teeth and the contents can be of dodgy ancestry, i.e., grapes with seeds in them and hard avocado- neither of them an attractive variant. Salads and sushi abound, but while Prime has enjoyed considerable success, I don’t think they always represent value for money.

Subway, on the other hand, is very good value, especially if, like me, you’re eating on the hoof: 15cm baguettes are 180 roubles which include the main filling plus an array of salad fillers and a couple of sauces to boot; those with a healthy appetite can plum for the 30cm offerings. However, the best deal is their daily ‘special’ which sees a 15cm baguette go for a mere 129 roubles which I take advantage of on Tuesdays as it’s Tuna Day.

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I visited various eateries to discover what was on offer, starting with the tried and trusted Silvers. They offer a set meal for 330 roubles which includes a help yourself salad bar and two choices of soup, and I chose the broccoli and cheese soup which was utterly sublime. There are half a dozen main courses to choose from which rotate regularly so there’s something for everyone. Throw in a soda and you’ll pay 425 roubles and the food is of a consistently high standard.

Hudson offer a menu at 390 roubles which includes soup, salad and a main course plus a drink of your choice including beer as well as soda, juice and tea/coffee. They have one main dish a day, fish on Thursdays and pasta or meat on the remaining days, and the menu changes each week.

Torro Grill, also in White Square, offer a choice of main dishes plus drink for 360 roubles; salad or soup plus mains for 490 roubles and all three for 690 roubles. The drinks on offer are the same as Hudson, but substitute beer for a glass of wine. I had the Bolognese fusilli, which was delicious but a little too much for my sparrow’s appetite, so I ended up with a doggy bag, which did nicely for my supper! It has to be said that it’s always busy in there both at lunchtime and in the evenings so they must be doing something right.

Sodexo manage many canteens in business centres all over Moscow. It’s a buffet service but you need to watch what you order as you pay extra for vegetables, so by the time you have three courses on your tray, don’t expect any change from a 500 note, and their prices have been escalating of late. I ordered a beef stew type dish that frankly had a lot of fat in it and was as tough as old boots, so I gave it up as a bad job after a few mouthfuls as it reminded me of prolonged involuntary hospital stays.

I had an erroneous experience at Shokoladnitsa where they took so long bringing two colas and a coffee, then admitted they had lost the order and got the second attempt wrong as well, so I didn’t bother with their average priced food. This is what happens when you pay staff peanuts, you tend to get monkeys, so if you want to avoid Soviet style service I suggest giving them a wide berth.

The most outstanding value for money came from Petrovich in Myasnitskaya which has had only one price rise in 5 years, from 180 to 200 roubles and includes a help yourself as often as you like, a soup and salad stand and a choice of main courses, usually fish, meat or chicken, and unlimited ‘mors’ to drink. Small wonder it’s crowded day in, day out.

There is another option which many are taking advantage of: bringing your own food in as most offices have microwaves. Many culinary delights have passed through our office, but avoid bringing in fish as while the taste may be good, the aroma affects all and sundry; indeed many offices have banned the heating of fish for that very reason. In synopsis, there are many deals out there, catering to all tastes – you just have to find them.

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