Moscow celebrity-chef, Alexei Zimin, has often been credited with changing the way Russians eat - emphasizing colourful platters of pickles, pâtés, preserves and fresh salads, and lighter hands in constructing its traditional stews and dumplings, applying contemporary techniques gleaned from his Cordon Bleu training, as well as stints in the kitchens of Raymond Blanc and Michel Guérard. Alexei Zimin’s first London venture, Zima, seeked to change the way people here think about Russian food, with its light, photogenic offerings and casual, laidback vibe.
Located on 45 Frith Street, Zima is right next door to Soho icon, Ronnie Scott’s and occupies a space which has seen quite a number of restaurants come & go - I remembered dining at EST Italian restaurant right on this spot, on the evening of 10 July 1994 when Italy beat Spain in the football World Cup quarter-finals (pony-tailed Roberto Baggio scored the winning goal at the 88th minute). Italian football fans streamed out of Bar Italia across the street from EST, cheering and singing. Frith Street became closed to traffic, and they banged on the roofs of cars trying to get through.
In the following years, several other restaurants had occupied that address, including La Ventana (Spanish) and Zaytouna (Greek).
Zima had first opened in March 2016 as a vodka bar, looking like a Soviet-era “ryumochnaya” (pub), serving a good range of ‘nastoykas’ or infused vodkas. It has since expanded to cover three floors, and the top floor was a smart dining room. ‘Zima’ (Russian: зима) translates to “winter”, and I’m wondering if the decorated sleds on one of the walls alluded to that.
We started with a few rather interesting vodka-based cocktails, including the Zima Beets (pear nastoyka, beetroot, lemon, agave), left, and Trans-Siberian Express (Russian Standard, sea buckthorn, orange, ginger, rosemary), right.
Zima Platter (to share), canapes consisting of a variety of pâtés, beetroot-cured salmon, on rye bread. These were absolutely scrumptious.
Vodka Platter (to share) - with mixed pickles (cherry tomatoes, cucumber, white & red cabbage and mushrooms), cured pork belly & pickled herring.
Potato rösti - which is actually a heavier, stodgier Belarussian version (not the Swiss version we were more familiar with), served with sour cream. Not to my taste.
We thought the sharing platters for starters were rather fun, and we were also served complimentary raspberry nastoyka in shot glasses, as the kitchen got pretty busy that evening, and we had to wait a bit for the mains:
Cabbage Rolls, stuffed with a mixture of minced beef & turkey - these were surprisingly light and very tasty, garnished with fresh herbs and small salad leaves, and drizzled with light herb vinaigrette and tomato concasse, altogether more Alice Waters than Russian babushka.
Zima’s take on the Beef Stroganoff, served with buckwheat and pickled cucumbers on the side was also lighter than the greasy, sour creamy version we’re used to:
We were given to understand that their rendition of the beef stroganoff was not cooked the traditional way, but still captures the essence of the dish, with tender slices of beef, mushrooms lifted by a mustard-infused gravy.
- Next were the Pelmeni dumplings, stuffed with three types of fish. Zima’s version was unique in that they served black-hued dumplings, infused with squid ink. These were served with a light vinaigrette and a scattering of fresh small salad leaves & salmon roe, eschewing the heavy traditional dressing of butter and sour cream.
Medovik (Honey Cake) - soft, spiced, layered sponge cake, interspersed with fresh cream and honey.
Cherry Vareniki - which were delicate little cherry dumplings, topped with raspberry sauce, and with sour cream on the side. These were very, very good, and we were almost tempted to order a second helping of them.
45 Frith St, Soho
London W1D 4SD
Tel: +44 20 7494 9111
Opening hours: Mon-Sat 12noon-1am, Sun 12noon-9pm