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Correspondent 23

New and (Nearly) Flawless: A French Art Cafe on the Uzviz

by Paul Miazga

Frenchman Louis Chambaudie quite possibly lays claim to the best hard-luck-turned-good-luck story in Kyiv, at least as far as all the ex-pat businesspeople in the city are concerned. While his past trials and tribulations might make for some good reading in a seminar on business pitfalls of the former Soviet Union, his current efforts have culminated in the newest and most-talked about restaurant opening in the city in years – Vernissage – and he’s working virtually non-stop to keep up with all the demand he’s created there.

Roughly two years ago Chambaudie was as good as gone from the city’s food and beverage scene, an enterprising butcher and meat importer victimized by a greedy local landlord who tripled his rent virtually overnight, forcing him out of business. Personally, I thought I’d never hear from him again, but then just before the New Year Chambaudie opened Vernissage (tel. 8044 425-2403), a smart little Parisian-style art café at #30 Andriyivsky Uzviz. For the last two months, he says, he’s been busy non-stop and my experience at the place over the weekend only backs this up.

A personal collection of art adorns most free wall space at Vernissage and simple lighting augmented by candles brings a warmth and conviviality to the café that’s uncommon for most Ukrainian-run restaurants in town. Adding to this, two sizable mirrors along one wall to create depth and Chambaudie’s welcoming presence and Vernissage avoids the nauseating claustrophobia of other below-ground restaurants and is instead cozy and inviting. While Vernissage has only seating for perhaps 40, each table feels distinct and separate from the rest and this also lends itself to the busy, yet not rushed feel of the place.

The lively atmosphere, filled with far more French and European accents than local ones, has few parallels in the city and speaks of the drawing power for such a personalized dining space in the Ukrainian capital, which is sorely lacking in this regard. My girlfriend and I, who had reserved a table nearly three hours in advance (evening reservations are a virtual necessity at Vernissage already), were shown to a table in the small corner by the said mirrors, partially secluded from the other, larger corner that faces the winding street outside. Light mood music came from speakers over the bar and complemented the art-café décor.

The Vernissage menu speaks volumes about Chambaudie’s history as a quality butcher. The menu, not overly deep and which includes French and Ukrainian dishes, devotes an entire page to steaks, the restaurant’s most noteworthy offering among many tempting offerings: Thai-style soups (among several others in the Hr 30 to Hr 43 range), various green salads (avg. Hr 30), tiger shrimp platters, fish and more. The steaks come with a range of toppings, from parmesan cheese to simple garlic butter, a red wine-green pepper reduction and others. Each portion is a meal in itself and comes with a small salad for just Hr 57, which is easily the best price for a cut of meat of this quality in the country. Side orders, not recommended with the steak but for the pork filet, or for vegetarians not wanting just a salad, include French beans, grilled vegetables and others (Hr 15 to Hr 25). Dessert standards include crème brulee, poached pears and more.

Naturally, Chambaudie hasn’t kept himself busy just for having a cozy atmosphere and good prices; the fact of the matter is the food (here meaning especially the beef) comes prepared as ordered. My girlfriend, who ordered her steak rare, got just that, the meat cooked not a bit more or less than desired. The wine list is deep – supplied handily by Vinolioub in Podil (as mentioned in a previous column) – with several nice offerings available by the glass or carafe. The dry rose we had was a nice complement to the salads and soup at the start of our evening. The service at Vernissage is also telling, with the staff being almost as comfortable in engaging customers and yet discreet in their service as at one of Kyiv’s other true French restaurants, Gorchitsa.

It’s hard to fault Vernissage, but to name one it would be that credit cards are as yet not accepted – a small drawback given all the other things done so well there. But to mediate this flaw, the summer terrace promises to be open in a month, meaning the atmosphere of that winding tourist street and the charm of this delightful new addition to the city’s dining scene. Vernissage is a must for city diners who appreciate authentic atmosphere as much as good food and good service.


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