With nearly 50 restaurants under his belt in the Motherland, Russian restaurant magnate Arkady Novikov is trying his luck in London. Already, all indications point to a huge success. Novikov is literally around corner from Green Park tube station, making it ultra-convenient for the hedgie crowd, and anyone else looking for a hip hangout after work, or just a reason to wear heels.
It’s a massive space, one that would probably intimidate Richard Caring.
Enough room for two restaurants and a bar. It’s a lot of pressure, but nobody lets it show. Staff are warm, welcoming, and best of all, lack the snootiness of other Mayfair hotspots. The venue is spread over three floors.
The ground floor hosts the Asian restaurant, and you could be forgiven for thinking you’d landed at Roka. Though what separates Novikov from the pack are the fresh “market” areas in both the Asian, and the Italian restaurant, downstairs.
It’s an ingenious method of creating eye candy that whets the appetite and can easily lead to over-ordering. After all, once you’ve seen what’s fresh and alluring, why not order everything?
The bar is in the basement – a poor noun choice, but, well, it is two flights down from the ground floor, so that would, technically be the basement.
But this is a seriously stylish one. Music you have to raise your voice a bit to talk over and a large, airy space carved up into separate lounge areas creates a cool vibe, even if it is a long flight back up again.
We spend a few minutes drooling over the fresh langoustines before settling in at the Asian restaurant, which is now filling up, even early on a Monday night.
I’m told it’s quiet, but find it hard to believe as we’re soon surrounded by a mix of bankers out to bust the expense account, couples, and, refreshingly, a family of four with some young, sushi-loving kidlets in tow.
I love a restaurant that’s super-cool, but egalitarian. Speaking of which, Novikov probably has the widest price range of wines in London, with bottles that start at £30 and go over £1k (well, this is Mayfair).
They also do something I’ve not noticed often on other wine lists; they offer 10-15 vintages of the same wine, a treat for Robert Parker followers.
Unfortunately the choice doesn’t end with Asian v Italian.
This is not a restaurant for the indecisive, which is why I wound up ordering the equivalent of about six starters.
Yes, six. I blame it on the fresh market. Razor clams are begging to be tried, especially since they’re a bit of a treat in London. Our waiter suggests them grilled in a chilli sauce, which was an unusual combination for a Western palate, but works well. The plump langoustines bowl us over. They’re perfectly grilled and oh-so-tender. We could eat them all night.
Those and the crab, avocado and cucumber salad with soy yuzu, which our waiter isn’t keen on. Thank goodness we ignore his advice on this one. It is, without doubt, one of the best dishes on the table, and one I’d regret missing. My companion and I are big fans of the crab and avocado combination, so we consider ourselves connoisseurs of the dish. We’ve tasted several Italian versions, but this Asian take is bar-none, the best. It’s bursting with flavour and soft, silky texture, not too much, not too little. Unbelievable is the word that comes to mind when I think about how to describe this dish. It was a tough choice between that and the tomato and lobster salad, which we dismiss as sounding too Italian, but I’m now convinced it’s worth coming back just to see the Asian interpretation.
By now the table is groaning under the weight of raw fish, and it’s time to move on to the mains. Miso black cod must be tried, my companion declares. It’s a staple, and a true bellwether for any Asian restaurant. I veer towards the steamed sea bass with ginger, spring onion and soy. The cod arrives beautifully presented, almost like a piece of origami and the taste is spot-on.
My sea bass is everything I’d hoped it would be after a few too many starters – light, yet flavourful, clean, and perfectly cooked. In fact, cooking fish perfectly is what this kitchen does best. If there’s one criticism it would be a slightly over-ambitious menu with too many dishes, making it tough on the diner, and tough for the kitchen to churn out each one perfectly.
But they seem to get it exactly right when it comes to heat and timing. And the one benefit of a big menu is all those dishes to keep people coming back to try.
The dessert list doesn’t suffer from brevity, either. There are green tea brules, mango tiramisus, and pineapple raviolis, but we settle on steamed coconut custard which is as light as it sounds, and converted a non-dessert person into a fan.
The tea selection is, as one would guess, vast, and varied. I’d stay away from the orange and fruit teas, which are more like hot juices. But by this point, you’ll be lucky to have any room left, and if given the choice, I’d fill up on what Novikov does best – fish.
Novikov is the talk of the town. It’s got the Hakkasan factor– that aura which makes everyone feel sexy. The lights are low, the food is seductive, and everything about this place says it’s not just a flash in the pan.
+44 (0) 207 399 4330
50a Berkeley Street