Moscow is a city of constant construction. Buildings are either falling down or going up – it can be hard to tell which – yet within the urban flux there are nooks and corners of ravishing old architecture and restful gardens. LavkaLavka Café, however, is a haven of a different kind. It was only by using my phone app, courtesy of Russian guide Calvert Journal, that I found the restaurant – negotiating muddy building sites, passing boarded-up shops and newly opened small enterprises to arrive, finally, at the warehouse that is LavkaLavka’s hidden home.
A small door opened into what could be a theatre set: three simple wooden tables placed in the centre for homely communal eating, topped with large samovars of tea and clusters of mugs, alongside jugs of red berry juice – and beyond, the kitchen in full view, where a cook wrestled with vegetables untamed by the supermarket. Behind him rose a traditional wooden dresser that would not look out of place in a Russian dacha. The walls were mostly bare brick, with some of the warehouse’s shelving still in place.
The café’s main attraction, however, was on the walls, which are decorated with photographs of smiling farmers. Far from the heroes of Stalin’s collectivisation, they are the backbone of this new Muscovite phenomenon – the individual producers of LavkaLavka’s organic meat, poultry, grains and vegetables, and homemade butters and preserves. For here is a farmers’ cooperative in the heart of the city, which was founded by Alexander Mikhail and Boris Akimov in 2009 as a food-distribution business, and which has developed from sourcing ethically produced food to cooking it.
All the farmers are lovingly named on the menu. Breakfast, for example, offers an option of pancakes with red caviar from Anton Iskandirov (Russian Far East), along with butter from Nina Kozlova (Ryazan region). For lunch, I chose Botvinia, a cold green soup made from cucumbers provided by the Nikolaev family (Krasnodar region), greens from Natalia Pachkevich (Tambov region) and red fish sourced again by that intrepid fisherman Anton Iskandirov. It was a tough choice between the pike burger made from wild Volga pike caught by Maksim Kurbatov (Yaroslavl region) and risotto with crayfish by Lilit Bagdasaryan (Armenia), but I think I selected very well. Kurbatov’s pike burger was pungent with dill, softened with cheese and cut by the sharpness of sauerkraut and other pickles (cucumbers, beetroot and red onion).
The café was a vivid showcase of Russia’s vastness – not only was everything culturally curious, with flavours and textures that I had never before encountered, but each farmer also reminded me of the many faraway territories I’ve yet to explore.