Chef Kuznetsov constantly improves and develops his eclectic delights
Growing up in Moscow, Igor Kuznetsov’s culinary dream was to go to a Chinese restaurant. But in the early 1990s, restaurants in the post-Soviet capital were either non-existent or very expensive. So he envisioned and created his own Chinese dish. The result: burned bits of beef, smothered in honey and soy sauce. His parents thought it was a waste of good meat.
Now an adult and the proud owner of Noble Savage in the first district, Kuznetsov’s affinity for Asia has remained: His girlfriend is Korean and he interned at l’Effervescence in Tokyo. Most of his menu is as international as he is, showing influences from France, Japan, Korea and Austria – but the result is never contrived, avoiding the gimmicky pitfalls of many of his fusion brethren.
His path into gastronomy took several detours, with Kuznetsov first studying business administration and later translation; after finally taking a course at the Basque Culinary Institute he gave in to his passion. Stints in Japan and Korea followed before he co-founded Karma Ramen in the 5th district, eventually selling his share last year to open Noble Savage, his first restaurant entirely his own. Here, he blends his entire life experience into delightful eight-course menus for €88 (or a four-course lunch for €44).
What’s in a name
For Kuznetsov, dishes are more than the sum of their ingredients; they need to tell a story. Which is why Noble Savage serves dishes with intriguing names like “Echoes From the Last Year:” A cold vichyssoise of kelp, leek, sanshō pepper and chive blossoms, its name references a previous incarnation where the soup was warm and made of celeriac instead of the traditional potato. Another is “If my Mom was French #2,” a pithivier (a half-spherical, stuffed filo dough pie), inspired by a visit to the renowned wine bar Le Clown in Paris. It’s stuffed with Blunzn, kimchi, egg and oyster sauce, but since Kuznetsov’s mother is a master at baking Russian pies, version #1 was stuffed with cabbage instead of kimchi. Its daring combination of flavors and the soft and chewy textures wrapped into a crunchy shell make it an outright stunner.
Both dishes also show Kuznetsov’s process: Completely new items are seldomly added to the menu, but old favorites frequently gain new twists, making change constant but gradual. “I try to improve every day”, he says. “What is the point of life, if you don’t try to make things better?” He also kept his preference for sweet and savory from his childhood, frequently combining the two. Acidity is his least favorite among the basic tastes, which he finds too trendy. So don’t expect a sour lemon granita as a palate cleanser before dessert – his is made of ripe, strawberries with just a hint of bergamot rind and lemon balm for good balance.
Noble Savage is a safe culinary bet – in more ways than one. Unlike some eateries which interpret the government’s one-meter rule quite loosely, Kuznetsov has reduced his seats from 22 to 16, leaving his cozy, intimate interior blessedly uncrowded in these uncertain times and letting you sit back, relax and enjoy his culinary tales, told plate by plate.