Gourmet Fever Hits Moscow
By Susan Kessler
Black bread and boiled potatoes, move over! A gourmet craze is gripping Moscow, which has seen three new food boutiques open their doors in Russia’s capital over the past 12 months. Whether in the mood for chocolate-covered chestnuts, goat cheese, or some strong curry powder and coriander to spice up your regular fare, now you can find it all inside the Moscow Ring Road, just in time for the winter holidays.
The most expensive and glamorous of Moscow’s new gourmet stores, Fauchon, has turned one year old in October. Its pink, black and white logo is hard to miss, when driving down Tverskaya, which gets even busier in December, with the onslaught of crazed Christmas shoppers. The glow from the windows of Fauchon’s cafe on the second floor seems more and more inviting, as the outdoor temperature gage plunges down, into winter’s icy embrace. Large cheese displays and hanging legs of cured ham are meticulously arranged on the store’s sales floor, which strives to replicate the festive design and luxurious feel of other Fauchon stores in the French chain, the opening of whose first shop dates back to 1886.
Russia’s famous restaurateur Arkady Novikov-whose $82 million holding includes dozens of Moscow’s eateries, such as Vanil near Christ the Savior Cathedral and Vogue Cafe, just a stone’s throw from the Bolshoi Theater – brought the high-end Fauchon chain to Moscow.
Together with Lev Khasis, board chairman of Perekryostok supermarket chain, Gideon Weinbaum and other business partners, Novikov has invested millions of dollars in Fauchon and Moscow’s two other new gourmet chains, Hediard and Globus Gourmet, to capture the hearts and wallets of the capital’s growing ranks of picky eaters. “I travel often and want to bring the best of what I see to Moscow,” Novikov said this October at the presentation of Russia’s first Hediard shop, the latest Moscow arrival among France’s famous gourmet brands.
Like Fauchon, Hediard has a history that can be traced back to XIX century France. ‘Enter the Hediard world…150 years of savoir-faire’ is the store’s motto, whose classic red logo is a perfect detail for New Year’s and Christmas gift sets. In Moscow, Hediard aims to become the favorite grocery-shopping destination in any season for the city’s gourmands and gluttons, with the most discriminating of tastes. Both French favorites, however, will have to compete with Globus Gourmet, another high-end food chain, which Novikov and his co-investors launched this summer. This slick, new Russian original occupies an airy, high-tech space in the Gimeney mall near Oktyabrskaya metro stop. Globus Gourmet is especially busy with shoppers on the weekends, scrambling to get the hot dishes, prepared by Cuban chef Jorge Maria Melanez, trying some fresh papayas or choosing among the store’s many seafood salads.
“Fuachon is very glamorous, Hediard has an earthy, nature-friendly feel; while Globus Gourmet is the place to go to find delicacies from all around the world, gathered under one roof,” Elena Soina, spokeswoman for Globus Gourmet, said, trying to pinpoint the differences among the three new food boutiques.
Unlike the other two shops, Globus Gourmet does not have an adjacent restaurant. However, an average sales receipt at Globus Gourmet is less than half the size of an average sales receipt at each of the two French gourmet stores.
Speaking about Hediard, Novikov said: “This store is for the well-to-do. It is not cheap here.” The same could be said about Fauchon, where an average purchase exceeds $80, compared to about $70 at Hediard, located on the Garden Ring, near the Moscow Zoo. A cozy Russian original, Globus Gourmet, targets the middle class, while Fauchon and Hediard are betting on the upper-most echelons of Moscow’s moneyed elite, familiar with France’s big-name brands.
Hediard’s black and red, decor is simpler than Fauchon’s plush interior, spruced up with pink hues. Both gourmet enclaves have cafes, with large windows facing busy streets. Smartly dressed couples can be spotted in either place, sipping jasmine tea or espressos and watching busier Muscovites hurry along the cold streets outside. Instinctively though, Hediard seems better suited for business lunches, while the slow, lazy jazz that fills Fauchon makes it the perfect place for Sunday brunch with your closest friends or for a lunch date, which is bound to linger past dinnertime.
Fauchon’s relaxing atmosphere and pleasant staff, uncharacteristically friendly for a high-end Moscow eatery, makes its visitors want to delay there for hours, sipping one cappuccino after the next. It is a great place to take time out from the pre-holiday work marathon and the stress of getting the perfect gifts, while trying to pin point who on your shopping list celebrates what and when. In addition to remembering whether it is a Hanukah or a Christmas gift you need in Russia it is essential to remember whether your friends celebrate Christmas in December or in January, as well as bearing in mind that New Year’s Eve still remains a major gift giving occasion for nearly everyone in the former Soviet Union, regardless of religious preferences.
After several hours of taking it easy at Fauchon, however, the resulting bill is set to break the cafe’s luminous spell and catapult lazy diners to reality. Some of the more frugal visitors have been known to get queasy and experience minor chest pains, upon receiving the bill at Fauchon. Still, image is half the game in the retail business, so being expensive is part of the self-cultivated style of both Fauchon and Hediard. This doesn’t mean that all the things sold at the two stores are unavailable elsewhere in Moscow. At Hediard, “it’s not just exotic products,” said Yana Pesotskaya, the store’s General Director in Russia. “However, with the atmosphere, we try to make everyday purchases more festive.”
While brie cheese is no longer a novelty for trendy Muscovites, deer meat pate, also in stock at Hediard, is still tough to find at most of the city’s other grocery stores. Many of the preserves, sauces, teas and other items among Hediard’s 3,000 products are shipped to Russia from all around the globe. Half of all the items available at the store are sold under the Hediard brand.
The store also has beautiful gift baskets, well suited for corporate winter gifts; but Fauchon may be a better choice when shopping for that special someone, who already has it all. An elegant, silver hourglass, for making sure the next cup of tea brews to perfection, costs about $50, while an enormous food basket, appropriately titled "Slivki Obshchestva," meaning creme-de-la-creme, is sold for about $2,500 at Fauchon.
“Oil is getting more expensive – we are getting wealthier,” Novikov said. Real incomes in Russia are on the rise, but still only hovering around $300 per month. While Fauchon’s “creme-de-lacreme” gift basket may not fit within the New Year’s shopping budget of most Muscovites, there are smaller, more affordable items available at the new gourmet boutiques. Unique products, like a glass jar of cooking sea salt from Portugal ($15.50), or black Kousmichoff tea in a metal box ($18), are sold at Globus Gourmet and can be assembled together to make a personalized Christmas gift package.
A colorful fresh flowers stand, serving as a gentle reminder of the fast-approaching winter vacation season, adorns Globus Gourmet sales floor near the front entrance to the store. Many a shopper cannot resist getting some white lilies or blue irises, bursting with spots of yellow, when moving from the sushi stand, past the fresh juice counter and to the sizable cheese display.
Thankfully, the body needs additional calories to stay warm in the winter, which is anyway less discriminating about waistlines than the summer beach season. Just in time for the winter holiday season of feasts to begin, a new Globus Gourmet location is set to open in the Vesna shopping center on Novy Arbat this December.