Oh Russians, how we live with the stereotypical image of them drinking more vodka than water in a boisterous fashion and them as individuals who are insanely rude. Of course when I paid a visit to Buyan I was half expecting it to be a rather rowdy dinner but was I pleasantly surprised.
Buyan Russian Restaurant and Caviar Bar, arguably the last remaining Russian restaurant in Singapore, lies on Duxton Hill, a chic district littered with bars and restaurants.
So you’ll be questioning why head to Buyan, apart from them serving authentic Russian cuisine that might just be impossible to find elsewhere on our tiny island. Let me guide you to a particular section in Buyan, where the magic lies and that is none other than the bar, containing the most comprehensive collection of vodkas in Singapore.
Throw in some Georgian wines and sparkling Russian wines for a happy start to any meal.
Buyan Russian Restaurant and Caviar Bar prides themselves to serve up authentic Russian dishes in a quintessentially Russian environment. Though when they say authentic, it doesn’t naturally mean that all their dishes are of the Russian origins, some were Slavic, others were Polish. It is more of how Russians found comfort in those dishes during the Soviet times and adopted them, making them a staple.
Katia, the marketing manager of Buyan, greeted us and showed us to our tables. Extremely hospitable and well-versed in both her’s and Buyan’s heritage, she let us in on the Russian lifestyle and how vodka plays a huge part in their lives.
You’ll be damned to know that Russians have their vodka in a carafe while visiting a restaurant and they rarely eat out because they do not trust the kitchen outside. While the first stereotype remains true, Katia has definitely refuted the second.
Buyan is split into two dining sections, one being more cosy and toned down, the other fully adorned with ornaments that are intricately designed, permeating an elaborate, eclectic and mystical atmosphere all at once. The latter is fully lit, splendid for gatherings and casual meals while the former is perfect for a romantic date night out, or first dates where you can shy away and blend into the dark interiors.
Katia mentioned how Russian food might taste slightly bland to locals as our palates are used to the hot and spicy dishes that excites our tastebuds, but to Russians, the food served here are simple and very homely where most of them come to Buyan for nostalgia.
I know there’s a stigma with vodka being awfully sterile tasting but that’s only because you’ve not tasted the premium ones. Here at Buyan, forget all the bad memories associated with cheap vodkas, you’re in for a treat, it’s Russian vodka after all.
Starting our meals with vodka, Russian style, Katia let us in on how they have their own infusions of Kauffman vodka and how they use lingonberry juice as chasers, more commonly known as mors in Russia. Kauffman vodka is distilled 14 times and filtered twice, once through birch coal and the other through quartz sand, producing a premium pure vodka.
From left: Kauffman Vodka ($20), Mors (chaser, made of lingonberry juice), Horseradish Vodka infusion ($13), Vodka infused with Cloudberry ($12).
Each shot is 45ml and if you’re feeling adventurous, there’s a 100ml portion as well and I’ll have you know that this is a normal portion for any Russian.
The pure shot of Kauffman vodka is smooth and fruity, albeit like an apple. The house-infused horseradish version is my favourite of them all. Hints of the horseradish lightly sears the nose and the essence remains in the vodka, simultaneously not discounting on the smooth and fruity finish.
The vodka infused with the cloudberry is rather sweet and pleasant. It tasted alot like umeshu to me but I’m still pledging loyalty to the horseradish one. The mors is sweet and sour, making it very appetising and delicate, a perfect sipping drink after each mouth of serious vodka.
Russian Lager ($16). It is pretty hard to find Russian beers in Singapore so if you’re at Buyan and you’re a beer person, why not order one for yourself.
Szatlotka (Bison grass vodka and fresh green apple juice, $18). A favourite cocktail of many patrons, this is a refreshing drink that can be sipped on for the entire night, or day. It has hints of cinnamon from the slice of cinnamon powdered apple to make it all the more appetising. I’d definitely recommend this.
In-house Russian Rye Bread.
Because they were unable to find any local bakeries that offers Russian rye bread, they decided to bake it in house, serving only the freshest loaves. It has a nutty and slightly tart taste given that rye is the mother ingredient, which is totally my sort of bread.
Classic Oscietra Caviar served with Blinis (typical thin Russian pancakes), Sour Cream, White Onions, Eggs and Chives (promotional price of $5 per gram, $50 for the 10g served).
Buyan only sources their caviar from farmed sturgeons and ensures that it is done through humane methods. They also make it a point to have at least one promotional caviar at any given point of time, to make it more accessible.
Katia recommended having the caviar with the mother of pearl spoon first before pairing the blinis with the rest of the condiments. Purely on its own, the oscietra caviar has a fresh and briny marine taste, soft in texture. With the blinis, the sour cream gives extra texture and the pancake balances the saltiness of the caviar.
The other condiments might prove to be overpowering if you’re not a big fan of it.
Herring Under Fur Coat ($18). This is a very popular dish amongst the Russian ladies, it is beautiful to look at and tasty to have. It consists of various vegetables that is slightly sweet and layered on top of herring, which is saltish. In house mayo is used here, as it contains more eggs and salt, providing a good accompaniment to the entire dish.
It is strongly recommended to toss the layers and mix them thoroughly, blending all the various flavours together, giving a more well-rounded taste. Remaining sweet and salty all at the same time, it was somewhat like a chirashi don mixed with potato salad and I love it. Very hearty.
Beef Borscht ($14). Beetroot and cabbage soup with beef, a traditionally Southern Russian cuisine, it is thicker than the Northern one as it is heartier and more tomato based, served with sour cream. Due to the large amount of tomatoes, the soup is slightly tangy and makes for a very appetising start to any meal.
Chicken Borscht ($11). The Northern counterpart, a clear cabbage soup that is thinner and lighter. It is exceedingly sweet with a hint of capsicum. I wouldn’t be able to choose from these two soups, they’re both good for different reasons so it really depends on what you are feeling for on that particular day.
Pelmeni ($18). On the menu it is described as dough pockets with mixed meat (beef and pork) fillings, which looks alot like mini gyozas. Super adorable and bite sized, it is also served with sour cream with a dash of beetroot juice. By now you should already know the Russians love serving everything with sour cream.
The fillings are juicy and very dense, unlike the usual ones we get in gyozas or dumplings. As for the dough pockets, it can get a little too thick around the corners but other than that, they are real yummers.
Beef Stroganov ($32). I really adore this plate of beef straganov, it has thin strips of beef basking in the glorious and velvety mushroom cream sauce that is extremely savoury. It is served with mashed potatoes and mushrooms. Though so, the sauce isn’t overpowering the dish, the beef strips’ essence is retained and the dish is balanced and well-seasoned.
Chicken Kiev ($28). This is literally the first dish that I thought about when someone mentions Russian cuisine, maybe from the fact that my Russian housemate used to cook this for dinner. So I was really excited to have it after so long and possibly be nostalgic for a bit. I had my first bite and I’m reminded of the good old days, so simple yet comforting.
The breaded chicken stuffed with clarified butter is baked to a golden brown on the outside, making it fragrant and crisp. The chicken breast melds with butter during the baking process, preventing the fillet from drying out, making it more tender than the usual tough chicken breast meat we have. The butter further enhances the aroma of the dish, most definitely a comfort food.
Napoleon Cake ($14). This Russian rendition has more puff pastry layers than the French one, making it softer. There’s actually a little history behind the cake but I’ll spare the details. The vanilla custard isn’t too sweet and the puff pastry is much lighter. When combined together, it makes for a creamier dessert, albeit like oatmeal with condensed milk and that’s straight up my alley.
Milk Kissel ($12). This fusion Russian dessert contains no dough and is made from milk. Think panna cotta topped with lingonberry jelly, not too sweet and with a hint of zest from the jelly. I’d recommend this to anyone looking for something more refreshing after a heavy dinner but I’m more of a decadent dessert sorta person.
Medovik ($12). I was expecting more of a soft layered honey cake but the medovik surprised me, in a pleasant way. On first taste it might prove to be too overwhelming with its spicy notes but it gets sweeter and more complex in flavours with each mouthful.
We had a hard time determining the spice so we asked Katja for some help. Seeing the bewildered look on our faces, she explained how the premium grade honey lends a hint of spiciness when it’s cooked. The sponge cake is denser than atypical ones and tastes slightly like Huat Kueh (steamed palm sugar cake).
The cream is also heavier, albeit like a butter and sugar mixture. Both the sponge cake and cream combines together to give a heavier dessert. I’d definitely order this again.
Abrau Durso (sparkling Russian red wine Sauvignon Cabernet, $13).
The sparkling red wine is more on the sweet side as compared to usual red wines, hence it is usually considered a dessert wine. I’ve never had sparkling russian red wine before and I was really excited about it. The verdict? Fizzy ribena with an alcoholic punch.
Though I said ribena, it isn’t as sweet as that and you can taste the slight bitterness of the fruits’ peel, offering complexity and I really liked it. Other than the red wine, Buyan offers Brut and Rose and many more wines. Take a little peek at the oldest champagne in the world, housed in the wine museum of Buyan’s owner, inside the other dining room.
At the end of the meal, my tummy was satisfied and I thoroughly enjoyed my entire stay at Buyan. Russians aren’t rowdy or insanely rude, they have a unique culture that is unexplored by us and it is unfair for us to only believe in stereotypical images without reasons.
Through their dishes, you can have a taste of what is homely to them, on what occasions do they have certain dishes and get to know more about their culture, which is highly intriguing to me. Buyan Russian Restaurant and Caviar Bar is much more than just a restaurant, so yes, I’d recommend heading down for an authentic Russian experience.
Expected Damage: $50 – $80 per pax
Do not be daunted by the concept of Caviar Bar and it housing the oldest champagne in the world. Buyan is actually rather affordable, with their main course ranging from $25 to $40. And this is just about to get better with the Entertainer App.
Purchase the Entertainer App and you can get 1-for-1 deals on Buyan’s main courses. Simply download the app and use our discount code: SETH2016 to get $10 off the app, head into Buyan and redeem the deal. Fuss free delight, what are you waiting for?