Kyiv is a strange place. It’s both breathtakingly beautiful and hideously ugly at the same time. The skyline is a mix of shining golden domes and abandoned Soviet buildings. There’s even a bridge across the River Dnieper that nobody has bothered either to put the finishing touches to or just knock down.
This, and some brightly coloured churches against the cold, grey sky, was about all I noticed on my first day in Kyiv. There is a reason for that. I’m sure it would have been very interesting but after a less than adequate breakfast at Manchester airport at 7am, I was hangry. The process only worsened when the restaurants for trying traditional Ukrainian food recommended by my hostel didn’t exist or were ridiculous, garish tourist traps.
Feeling defeated after a few hours walking in Kyiv but not quite ready to surrender to McDonald’s, I went back to my hostel to check if there was anything nearby. What a stroke of luck! Just a 2-minute walk away was one of the best restaurants in Kyiv… and if you didn’t already know, Kyiv is one of the cheapest capital cities in Europe so I didn’t have to persuade myself too hard. Hoping that involuntarily starving myself all day had been a good idea, I headed straight for Kanapa (that’s the restaurant).
Being confronted with a menu full of unfamiliar things, I decided to let the chef do my work for me. Also, I’m very, very indecisive, which is the real reason. There was only one logical choice, which was a five-course tasting menu with some (mostly) weird and wonderful things on it too! Thankfully, the restaurant had taken the fried sweetbread (yes, that’s testicles) and veal brains off this particular menu. Probably because they were making lots of people cry, vomit, or just leave. I just got to try the following…
1st course: Odessa Style Pike Caviar
I’ve never had caviar. I’m probably not going to make a habit of it, but the presentation was pretty spectacular. Half an oyster full of caviar and the other half filled with bright green onion butter. Served with some of the lightest bread I’ve ever tasted. Usually, I hate onions, but obviously someone in the kitchen had a magic wand because they were actually delicious, and I didn’t embarrass myself by being sick.
2nd course: Aspic made of hare and pheasant meat with horseradish
Now, I didn’t know what aspic was before I ate this and I still don’t (disclaimer, I’m not a food critic). However, at first glance it seemed to be a variation of Whiskas meaty chunks in jelly topped off with the icing off a child’s birthday cake. Although I’ve never tasted that combination, I’m fairly confident in saying this tasted better. If the bright pink horseradish moussey foamy thing wasn’t enough, the accompaniment was horseradish vodka. Yes, that is a thing. At this point I did embarrass myself, failing to ingest it without doing a pathetic sneeze that I inherited from my grandma.
3rd course: Ukrainian Borsch with Pork Ears
The Ukrainian national dish doesn’t exactly sound appetising. Beetroot soup decorated with a pig’s ears and a dehydrated pear sitting in the middle of all that mess? Hmm. Again, this was a case of something tasting a lot better than it sounded (although it didn’t look bad at all). A perfect mixture of sweet, savoury, and the sour cream mixed in gave it a lovely texture. With a side of brioche garlic bread, this one was a winner! This was the perfect complement to the miserable grey day of my arrival.
4th course: Varenyky with Pikeperch and Smoked Salo Filling
On reading the menu, this was probably the one I was most excited about. Gyoza, bao, even mince and dumplings are decent if I’m in the right mood. These dumplings were so small and black that they were more like squid ink tortellini or ravioli. That’s not a bad thing! Little bits of bacon in a creamy sauce made it a little carbonara-y (that’s a word now), but there was no taste of fish. Varenyky also come as a dessert, filled with cherries or strawberries. By the time this is up, I’ll have hopefully done a course in making them!
5th course: Chicken Kyiv
In the past, I have immensely enjoyed chicken kyivs from the freezer or occasionally from the reduced bin at Sainsbury’s on a Sunday night. So, it would have been a major disappointment if the chicken kyiv at a top restaurant wasn’t better than these. It was juicy, moist, and the garlic wasn’t overpowering which were all good signs. Accompanied by mashed potato smoother than a Marvin Gaye record and this was the perfect end to a delicious meal. It’s a shame there was no dessert, but I think I might have burst had that been the case.
It’s safe to say that this meal perked me up and left me excited about the following few days in the Ukrainian capital. Although several of the items on this menu were not what I’d pick myself (and to be honest, some of them I wouldn’t eat again) I’m really glad I tried this. Although it’s not strictly traditional Ukrainian food, this modern twist on it was a great bit of theatre and a great experience.
How to get to Kanapa
If you want to try this delicious menu for yourself (and I definitely recommend it), it’s not hard to find Kanapa. It’s on one of the most famous streets in Kyiv’s Old Town, Andrew’s Descent. It’s much easier to say than in Ukrainian – Andriyivsʹkyy uzviz. The tasting menu costs 698 hryvnia (€22) or 1,000 hryvnia (€32) with drink pairings.
If you have the presence of mind to book rather than just turning up 5 minutes after you’ve heard of the place, you’ll get a great seat in a dining room surrounded by stunning artwork (that you can buy) in a room that resembles a 19th century literary salon.