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A NIGHT OF CAVIAR AND VODKA by David Hetherington

Eating out in London continues to surprise and satisfy in its diversity and quality.
The opportunity to sample good caviar was the irresistible temptation to visit a lively and attractive corner of the capital - Primrose Hill, and the Troika Russian Restaurant in Regents Park Road.


I have internet entrepreneur Tony Stecker to thank for introducing me to Troika, surely one of the most vivacious restaurants in London.
A Russian musician plies his chords every Friday night and Saturday night here while you peruse a long list of Russian, Ukrainian and Polish dishes chalked up on the extensive blackboard menu. A bottle of Polish or Russian Special Pils (£2.20 a bottle) is the authentic thirst-quencher while doing this.

Tony and Trojka owner Jurek are enthusiasts for high quality caviar imported from Russia and I was invited to join them in a tasting. Eaten with freshly baked Russian blinis, a little sour cream and onions, this is a treat - albeit an expensive one!

Tony assured me that Shashlik (£7.00) was one of the best dishes on the menu and once again his judgement proved to be impeccable. Shashlik is cubes of marinated chicken, spit grilled and served with rice or Kasha which is roasted buckwheat. Jurek, who I discovered, is half-Polish and half-Ukrainian would not divulge his recipe for this.

The atmosphere at Trojka encourages stimulating debate and a heady evening was topped off with some inauspiciously named Russian spirit called Bison Vodka. (£1.60 a slug, or £1.20 during happy hour.)

There is a single strand of Bison grass in every iced bottle. It is customarily consumed in one fell swoop from a thick miniature that is then slapped down on the table with sonorous effect... after sonorous effect.

Hello buffalo

The car had to be left in the road for the night and a taxi hailed. Your correspondent caught a fleeting glimpse of buffaloes grazing on Primrose Hill as he was chauffeured back home.


Troika is a Russian restaurant in the heart of Primrose Hill. In a spacious room decorated in bright colours, Russian, Ukrainian and Polish dishes are chalked up on the blackboard and listed on the large menu. This is a friendly, casual place, with a warm, neighbourhood atmosphere. Dishes come piled high with copious portions of well-prepared food. It is a hard worker - open for three meals a day - but it's in the evenings that Troika really comes to life, and especially on Fridays and Saturdays when you're serenaded by a Russian musician strumming and crooning away in the centre of the room. That is, if you can get in; the place gets so packed you may have to fight for a table.

Check the blackboard for the specials before perusing the lengthy menu. Starters might include herring fillet in dill and caper sauce (£3.20), or salmon tartare (£4) - cured salmon with gherkins, capers and ginger. Otherwise, you can't go wrong with the borscht (2.50), which is delicate and well flavoured. Troika also does very good blinis (buckwheat pancakes, £3.70), served with a variety of fillings - smoked salmon and trout, pickled herring, aubergine caviar and taramasalata. Main dishes are generous and most come with vegetables. Good choices include pan-fried fillet of salmon marinated in ginger and dill, served on a bed of spinach with tartare sauce (£7). The Russian Pierog (£5.50) is also tasty -this is sauerkraut, sauteed vegetables and herbs in pastry served with either mushroom or tomato sauce. Pelmeni (£6) is home-made ravioli filled with a choice of vegetable or meat fillings, while golubtsy (£6) are squidgy cabbage leaves stuffed with chicken and rice. Not to be missed is the latke and smetana (£1.20), crispy potato pancakes served with a dollop of sour cream. Desserts are straightforward but satisfying. There's the very good chocolate mousse torte (£3), or, for a real treat, malakoff (£3) - sponge fingers dipped in whipped cream and marsala.

Trojka (which means 'three of something') offers a small selection of flavoured, frozen vodkas to wash down all that blini and sour cream. At £1.60 a shot, you get to choose between plum, pepper, or, more intriguingly, bison grass, rowan and kosher.

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