Moscow’s Best Hidden Business Lunch Venues That You Can Afford

Simon Green

Despite the fact that the recent crisis is slowly improving, many people are still looking for jobs or clinging on to existing ones for dear life. As such, this means that most of us are still watching our expenditure when it comes to splurging out at lunchtimes. Some people negate this problem by bringing their own into their respective offices, but there are many others like myself who have to ‘eat on the hoof,’ so to speak, with little time to spare. To that end I was asked to seek out a few of the less obvious places, off the beaten track in many cases, to try and find a cheap and cheerful option whilst maintaining reasonable quality.

Obviously there are the ubiquitous Subways dotted all over town, and their special of the day at 139 roubles takes a lot of beating for a 15cm baguette, rich with fillings and sauces. Torro Grill on White Square is still the go-to place for the business fraternity in that area with their business lunch, including a drink, at just 390 roubles; no surprise that it’s packed to the rafters day in day out. I sought advice from my Facebook friends about what’s hot and what’s not, which enabled me to start my quest, and while I may only have scratched the surface, it gives a good indication of what’s out there for the taking.

I paid a visit to Todace restaurant in Smolenskaya, about 200 meters from the dark blue line, on the Garden Ring next to Sportsmaster in the direction of the Lotte Plaza. Moscow boasts many of these cafes, so I waltzed into this particular one around 12.45, fully expecting to be able to sit down immediately — how wrong I was! Several people with the same idea were waiting in front of me as there wasn’t a seat to be had. The menu offered a business lunch as well as á la carte, and the prices varied from 250-350 roubles for a sizeable main course. I have to confess I’m not the biggest fan of sushi, and although other meat and vegetable dishes were offered, I decided to stick with what they were obviously specialists at. I wasn’t disappointed, though the service was rather slow, but it didn’t detract from the pretty pleasant experience which wasn’t too costly either.

I was also urged to try another place in the immediate vicinity, namely Ostankino. It’s actually a meat deli shop just to the right of the aforementioned metro, and there are a chain of them in and around Moscow. The cafe in this case was an extension of the shop, and most people would walk past it blissfully unaware of its existence. This place gives the UK description of ‘greasy spoon’ a whole new dimension as it’s based on the premise of meat and two veg with some salad throw in for good measure to make it look good, and maybe even entice some ladies in there (no chance of that methinks). It reminded me of a Ladbrokes betting shop with it’s atmosphere of doom and gloom, and I seriously doubt any business tie has ever seen the inside of it judging by the clientele I saw. That said, a meal including a beer will only set you back 250 roubles, so I took a deep breath and made the plunge. I considered phoning the local hospital to reserve a bed in anticipation of serious stomach complaints, but was pleasantly surprised at the food. The same can’t be said of a recent excursion to Moscow City’s Sodexo canteen, which served up an abominable mushroom concoction, the effects of which had me racing to the bathroom just a few minutes later — I suggest giving this rip-off chain of canteens, which have been vilified in the UK media recently, a wide berth!

Several friends recommended Pie Point, just down from Pushkinskaya’s McDonalds and take the first street right. This place is run by “one man and his dog” and there’s barely enough room to swing a cat in there with seating for just 20 people at a stretch. The pies were rather pricey (300-450 roubles) and quite tasty, but the main attraction was the fish and chips on offer, either eat in or take away; and at 350 roubles, this was by far the best deal in my opinion. Alas, the drinks on offer seemed to be only beer, tea and coffee and no soft drinks like cola to speak of. My creative mind saw that this would at least be a good place for an illicit rendezvous as the chances of being disturbed or discovered would be virtually nil.

Another well known homemade pie place is Stolle which is just 5 minutes walk from Myakovskaya metro, along Sadova in the direction of Barrikadnaya. This is a German themed place with representation in many of the world’s capitals. You can order a slice of mouth-watering cherry pie or select a meat or salmon slice for around 150 roubles. The latter I sampled was positively ambrosial, and I’m not even a fan of fish! However, where they score heavily on points is their extra large pies to take away which appeared to be the preponderance of their trade. These massive square pies come in at anything from 900-1800 roubles but will satisfy several adults at one sitting — small wonder I witnessed several of these boxes going out of the door like hot cakes to various offices for eager consumption. If you’re looking for the doyen of pies for casual office lunch or party celebration, then look no further than here, but don’t order any of their other Russian dishes, they are rather expensive.

Petrovich on Myasnitskaya 24 is a old favourite for business lunches. Whilst it may be a private members club in the evening, during the day it’s open to all and sundry. Incredibly it’s only had one price rise in in the last 7 years, and at 200 roubles all in, including unlimited soup, salad and ‘mors’ drink alongside a choice of fish or meat for mains, this is undoubtedly outstanding value for money. No big surprise it’s crowded out every business day; and despite being difficult to locate for the uninitiated, once experienced, you’ll be back for more in true ‘Oliver’ style.

Hot off the press comes a place that’s only been open for a couple of weeks, and it’s already heaving with grateful clients. Silver Panda on Yamskoe Pole 3, just 5-7 minutes walk from either Belaruskaya metro station, is a real find, and my thanks to the staff of Millward Brown where I teach for the heads up. It’s a natchy little cafe, strategically placed between several business centres, and it’s reputation as a cheap and cheerful Chinese place to eat in or out is spreading like wildfire! I ordered an omelette with various fillings for a measly 70 roubles, and the main dishes at 200 roubles are offered up in humongous bowls of around 20cm in circumference by 15 cm deep and are, quite frankly, an archaeological dig. A couple of my expat friends could finish one of these helpings in one sitting (one of them a regular contributor to this magazine), but even they would be hard pushed! I myself, with my sparrow’s appetite, made slight inroads then gave up the ghost and opted to have it boxed up to take home for two subsequent meals. Fantastic value for money and my runaway winner, but I strongly suggest getting there before 12.30 or risk facing lengthy queues.

If you’re lucky enough to have a friend in the Duma, you could do a lot worse than get an invitation for lunch there. Passport details are needed 3 days in advance and security detail via two-way mirrors and various electronic checkpoints are par for the course. It’s worth the effort as the dining room exudes a pleasant atmosphere, and a three course lunch is surprisingly good quality except for slightly strange tasting fruit drinks. The bill will set you back an embarrassing 200 roubles or so, and the fact that it’s subsidised by the tax-payer makes it taste all the nicer! In synopsis, there are plenty of places out there comprising quality and quantity, that you don’t have to take out a second mortgage to enjoy.