My guest for dinner was Roland Nash, partner and head of research at Renaissance Capital. He is a regular “dinosaur” in Moscow’s financial world, having been here since 1994 (we do our research too), and so it surprised me to meet a very agreeable humorous man of only 32. The surprise was mutual as he thought that I was an undercover journalist. This was a new one for me. How do you convince somebody that you really do want to talk with him about being a pillar of the financial community, and not to look for his feet of clay? When he runs out of cigarettes and has to borrow your’s (it makes for camaraderie). Roland started smoking my cigarettes with a pace and a determination that impressed me (and then we bought another pack).
The terrace of Carre Blanc on a hot Friday in summer produces a relaxed luxurious environment that makes you feel as if you have stepped completely out of the big, busy city. A mojito helped me get over the thought that I somehow looked as if I was working undercover, and the Kronenbourg for Roland put him in the mood for some not so tough questioning. First, how had he come to Moscow?
“In 1994 I had just finished my Bachelor’s degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (at Oxford), and I was waiting to start my Ph.D.” But when he was asked to recommend someone as an economic adviser to the Russian Government he pointed to himself. At the age of 22 he was working with Andrei Illarionov, Chief Economic Advisor to the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Viktor Chernomyrdin.
My pack of cigarettes was already half empty and my mojito long gone when we finally decided to order. Roland’s crab and avocado salad looked as tempting as mine with shrimps and parmesan. The service throughout was prompt and the presentation was made with flair and no extravagance. Being the good restaurant that it is, Carre Blanc has its own sommelier, and we went with his recommendation of a Mercury dry white.
Investment bankers have a reputation for working awfully hard, but the wine was so good that I can share with my readers the real story as to how research is conducted in Russia. This dinner after all was to find out about the glamour and the seven-day eighty-hour weeks of the financial elite. I lit another cigarette in preparation, Roland accepted another glass of Mercury: “I have worked as an economic and financial adviser for ten years. I have worked for the Russian European Centre for Economic Policy, I have worked as an unofficial adviser to the Russian government (Kiriyenko 1998, and Putin 1999), and now with Renaissance Capital. Today I guess you can say that I’ve done my time in the ‘library’ and I can say that my most important research is conducted in restaurants and cafes.”
How good this dinner was making me feel. I now felt so much more comfortable knowing that my own preferred lifestyle would make me a good investment banker one day. I was already planning how many suits I would need, when Roland put his glass down and carried on.
“Of course, I have a number of foot-soldiers who produce information data and key-figures. But the Russian market is much more inefficient than Western markets. Information is harder to obtain, and for many companies that are not heavily traded the validity of this information is more of an estimation. In general political decisions are the most important factor to consider. The research community which knows about and discusses politics relevant to the investment climate is very small. We all meet regularly to share our views, in restaurants and cafes.”
It was that English style again that had fooled me; the hard work that must never look like hard work. For Roland Nash it meant that Renaissance Capital had been voted the number one research team in Russia for the third year running.
No suits. No Ferrari. Still, I had the food to comfort me. My lasagna of fois gras was an exotic combination that worked very well. Roland had chosen a fillet de Saint Pierre a la sauce de coco.
Our conversation moved into the Russian investment climate. Roland has firm views: “The perception of Russia, especially from the view of foreign investors, media or politicians, changes much too fast, and is often wrong. It is either seen as Nigeria with snow or a complete success. These extreme perceptions are something we try to fight in Renaissance when we advise our clients. Yes, compared to many Western countries Russia still lacks much in legislation and the securing of property rights. But the transition of Russia in only 14 years has been a huge success. Many now see Putin as far too autocratic, but he has brought a stability that Yeltsin could not provide.”
We left this sensitive discussion when our coffees and my dessert came, to talk about something more serious. Apparently he had tried heli-skiing in Kamchatka, and tank driving as well, and we agreed that Russia definitely is the place to realise some of your childhood dreams. As he talked about his travel adventures I could slowly enjoy my Mille Feuilles with Mascapone cream and fruits. They do make very good pastry in Carre Blanc.
The espresso came with complimentary petits fours, and we scoffed the lot. I was expecting that Roland would be talking about going into the office at the weekend but no, he was headed for the dacha. As we left the seclusion of Carre Blanc I was thinking how hard it must be to make hard work look so easy. I had especially liked Roland’s metaphor for changing Russian politics which he compared to “Surgery with a baseball bat.” How much research must have gone into that seemingly throwaway, and yet so telling, remark.
WHAT WE ATE
Crevettes roses e’quatoriales et St Jacques 760 fume’es, roquette et confit de le’gumes exotiques
Salad “Roquette”, pink shrimps and smoked St. Jacques with exotic vegetables
Chair de crabe Chatka aux pequillos et avocat, tomate grappe et vinaigrette Gaspacho
Ñhatka crab with “Piquillos” pepper and avocado, “bunch tomatoes” and gaspacho dressing
Lasagne au foie gras de canard de Chalosse, ce`pes et e’pinard, gratine’ a` la cre`me de parmesan
Gratinated duck foie gras lasagna with spinach, “ce`pes” mushrooms in parmesan cream
Filet de Saint Pierre a la sauce de coco
Fillet of St Pierre (John Dory) with coconut sauce
Mille Feuilles with Mascapone
Petit fours (complimentary)
WHAT WE SMOKED
WHAT WE DRANK
Mercury L. Max 2002
What it cost:
Carre Blanc: 19/2 Ul. Seleznyovskaya
Tel.: (095) 258 44 03