Gargoyles beneath the bar
You've probably driven past it countless times. The tall sandstone walls of The Coachmen appear rather ominous, but step through the wrought iron gate, walk up the short stretch of red carpet and then let your gaze rest upon the wonder that is the bar area.
Red velvet lounge
There's a wondrous sense of over-the-top spectacle in the Imperial Russian decor. Opulent red velvet lounges, a marble coffee table, a Russian flug pinned to the back wall, and propping up the bar, a row of gargoyles. The bar itself is impressive, reputed to incorporate the largest collection of vodkas from around the world. I blink twice before I realise that yes, two enormous female statues bookend the bar.
Swan lamp on the bar
We follow tonight's organiser Billy into the dining area, broken up into a series of cosy alcoves. One area seems designed specifically for couples with intimate tables for two illuminated by the flicker of candelight.
A table for two
The building, which dates from the 1820s, was built using stones handcut by convicts. You can still see the markings from the convicts' chisels.
Originally built as a family estate by Thos. Campbell for his wife, the house was used as a parsonage in the early 1900s. It has beeen trading as The Coachmen restaurant since 1995.
A line-up of Russian dolls overlook a medieval-style table. We delight in our stately table - a huge glass topped oval table with heavy carved wooden legs.
The glass table setting that seats twelve
Pouring the Polar Bear vodka
Online bookings entitle diners to a free bottle of wine with their meal. If you ask nicely, however, the friendly (and quaintly dressed) staff will offer you vodka tastings instead. We mostly splutter over the throat-burning Polar Bear Russian vodka, although this probably says more about our alcohol tolerances than the vodka itself.
In-house plum vodka
The plum vodka is much more palatable, the sweetness of the plums muting the alcoholic burn into more of a vodka cocktail.
Borsch soup $12.95
Red beets, cabbage, potato, carrot and tomatoes in a meat broth,
served with shallot and sour cream
Between the ten of us, we manage to cover much of the menu. Borsch is a hearty soup with chunks of red beetroot, curls of cabbage and cubes of carrot and potato.
Siberian meat dumplings (pelmeni) $14.95
Classic Russian meat-filled dumplings
poached in boiling water and served in clear stock with sour cream
Siberian meat dumplings, or pelmeni, are a touch doughy with a pasty meat filling, but they're helped along by the soup and the rich dollop of sour cream.
Coachmen pancakes $13.95
Savoury pancakes with chicken filling served warm with mushroom sauce
The Pom orders the Coachmen pancakes, pale delicate crepes dressed with a creamy chicken filling.
Herb bread $4.95
Potato dumplings (vareniki) $13.95
Traditional Ukrainian-style mashed potato filled sumplings
poached in boiling water, served with fried onion and
sour cream in a tomato rosette
I'd been torn whether to order the potato dumpings, but Mrs Pig Flyin saves me the torment and offers to share her order. The potato dumplings are a orgy of starch, mashed potato in a flour pocket, it's strangely comforting, particularly with the rings of deep-fried crispy onion and a little dab of sour cream.
Herring in a fur coat $13.95
A traditional Russian salad made of herring fillet, potato and beetroot
topped with egg zest, gourmet mayonnaise and dill
Perhaps it was just the name, but the herring in a fur coat was such a popular request at our table that the waitstaff eventually advise they have completely sold out. Everyone is taken aback by what eventually arrives, a deep square dish that looks nothing like the salad we'd expected.
Digging past the crimson-tinged sour cream, the julienne of beetroot and slivers of egg and shallot, Mirvettium finds wedges of soft cooked potato and thick fillets of herring. It's like a Russian take on potato salad with herring replacing the bacon, and the beetroot adding sweetness.
Crepes Russian style $16.95
Traditional Russian pancakes served warm
with red salmon caviar and sour cream
Billy and I both opt for the Russian-style crepes. The crepes are thin and soft, a perfect carriage for the sour cream and plump swollen salmon eggs that pop against the teeth.
Veal goulash $24.95
Tender veal chunks sauteed with sour tomatoes, carrots
and selected herbs in cream. Served in a ceramic pot
with boiled potato and caramelised onion toast.
A series of ceramic pots herald the arrival of our mains. Veal goulash hides beneath a toast roof topped with caramelised onion and shredded cheese.
Monastic fish $23.95
An authentic 18th century recipe: Dory fish fillet with potato,
mushrooms and cheese au gratin baked in a ceramic pot
The Monastic Dory
The Monastic fish had intrigued most of us with it's 18th century recipe promise. It's a rustic dish of soft potato cubes, chunks of firm fish, a layer of cheese (not melted as we'd expected) and the flavour of salt and lemon. The fish I try is overly salty, although Mrs Pig Flyin assures me the fish further down is much more subtly seasoned.
Beef stroganoff $25.95
Strips of steaks, mushrooms and sour cream mustard sauce
served with jasmine rice and pickled gherkins
The Pom's beef stroganoff is a jumble of tender beef steak strips coated in a sour cream mustard sauce.
Grilled pork medallion $24.95
Marinated lean pork medallion flame grilled
served with mashed potato, creamy spinach and fried onion
Mirvettium orders the grilled pork medallion, but it's the creamy spinach that wins us over. The sour cream sauce successfully melds the flavours of the tender pork with the mashed potato.
Grilled lamb Georgian style (shashlik) $25.95
Marinated lamb fillet grilled on skewer
served with chat potato, fresh salad, marinated onion
and homemade spicy tomato sauce
I experience food envy when I spy the grilled lamb Georgian-style, shashlik served on giant skewers that could double as swords. Pig Flyin generously offers me a sample and the hefty chunk of lamb is cooked to perfection, pink and succulent.
Cabbage rolls $22.95
White cabbage leaves filled with ground beef and rice,
cooked in vine-ripened tomato sauce served with sour cream
My cabbage rolls are two generous parcels of beef mince mixed with rice, simmered slowly in a tomato sauce until sweet. Sour cream is my new best friend.
Chocolate raspberry crepe $9.95
Sweet crepe filled with hot raspberry soaked in sugar
served with vanilla ice cream and dark chocolate sauce
The dessert menu doesn't have a strong Russian focus, particularly when the waitress informs us the Rum Baba is not available. There seems to be an endless stash of crepes however, this time filled with a warm raspberry coulis and drizzled with chocolate sauce.
Mango paradise mousse cake $9.95
Light and tasty French style dessert made from natural mango fruit
The Mango paradise mousse cake does not look like a typical Russian dessert. It does have a strong mango flavour, like a mango mousse sandwiched between layers of sponge.
Sour cherry strudel $9.95
Served dusted with icing sugar and a scoop of vanilla ice cream
I finish my meal with the sour cherry strudel, pleasingly tart but missing the ricotta cheese that was listed on the menu. The pastry isn't flaky but the thin shell holds a surprising amount of cherry filling.
Three courses cost about $50. Looking for a venue with a quirky ambience? Get rushin'!
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The Coachmen Russian Restaurant and Function Centre
763 Bourke Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9319 7705
Open for dinner Tuesday to Sunday
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11/17/2009 12:07:00 am