For a restaurant to survive 10 years in Moscow's cutthroat business environment, it has to be good. Although, on the other hand, McDonald's has been going great guns since the 1950s, and just look what the food and atmosphere are like there.
Still, when I got the call to go to Sirena, Moscow restaurateur Arkady Novikov's first venture, I was intrigued. What kind of establishment continues to attract loyal customers after 10 years, especially when restaurant trends in Moscow change so fast?
After a brisk 15-minute walk from Sukharevskaya metro (allowing for a few wrong turns) we arrived at the tree-lined path to Sirena. Stunning cars lined the parking lot, and hundreds of wine bottles lined the entrance hall. After assuring the doorman we had a reservation, we unloaded our coats and were ushered to a table for two in the larger of Sirena's two rooms. (The smaller room is more famous, with an aquarium in the floor.)
The room was fair-sized and almost every table was filled, but the sounds of voices were muffled by the thick green carpet and aquariums lining the dark-wood walls. The lights were soft and the cozy, elegant atmosphere was enhanced by the music from the upright piano, whose player's repertoire ranged throughout the night from jazz standards and Chopin to Abba, "The Pink Panther" theme and "Come Together." A great mix.
Established at our table in our comfortable chairs, my boyfriend and I surveyed each other, grinning, across a broad expanse of linens, flowers, multiple glasses and properly placed silver. We had arrived in the lap of luxury.
One of our five waiters soon arrived and I ordered a Perrier, while the man chose an apple juice. We tried to make sense of the huge menu while another waiter brought us our drinks and complementary quail's eggs, and yet another served us four kinds of fresh bread from a basket. My boyfriend wasted no time in proclaiming his apple juice the best he had ever tasted. It looked kind of funny, with an inch of foam on top, but I can vouch for its originality.
Sirena was celebrating the Beaujolais Nouveau holiday, and gave us a bottle of Duboeuf Beaujolais as a present. Since I've never been a fan of that region's offerings, I sought out the advice of the restaurant's sommelier, who came up with an excellent, flavorful bottle of 1997 Argentinean Miscelania Weinert Mendoza (1485 rubles).
To go with the aquariums and general seafaring theme, Sirena's menu is heavily focused on underwater creatures. From a list of appetizers that ranged from 462 to 1188 rubles, I chose the cocktail of Far East crab and avocado in a sea spider shell (660 rubles), while he finally settled on the Scottish salmon carpaccio with turbot and tuna in a special sauce (891 rubles). My crab was excellent, but, while my boyfriend definitely enjoyed his carpaccio, he moaned that the portion was "too big." Not one for an eating marathon, him.
I, on the other hand, was up for it and followed with a soup-puree of artichokes with tenderly sauteed calamari (594 rubles). I have never known calamari to be anything but rubbery, so I had to try it, and was surprised they really were tender. The soup was delicious, with an interesting flavor of mint.
We moved on to the main courses, for him a fillet of king dorado with a potato crust and creamy sauce and celery puree on the side (1089 rubles), and for me grilled king prawns wrapped in smoked bacon with asparagus (1155 rubles). The man finished his dorado, no small feat for him, and pronounced it "amazing." My prawns were huge and extremely fresh.
A 20-minute break was necessary before dessert. We had already ordered creme brulee (330 rubles), apple pie with Carolans sauce (264 rubles), jasmine tea and espresso (99 rubles) when we received complementary peach sorbet and mini pastries. We were overwhelmed by the sheer amount of delicious food.
Of course, Sirena is not cheap. But it's truly a place where you get what you pay for in the service, ambiance, wines, freshness of the fish and quality of the food. Maybe that's the secret to its 10-year success: It's the perfect place for a special occasion.