Thursday, August 27, 2009

Russian Ballet & Midnight Suppers

In 1987 the Bolshoi Ballet came to Launceston in Northern Tasmania. I know, I know, the picture above is the badge of the Kirov Ballet and the Kirov lives in St Petersburg and the Bolshoi in Moscow and the two are totally different. Patience please, I will get to the Mariinsky in a minute. That, as Groucho Marx would say, is new business, you can't bring that up now.

The main feature of the Bolshoi performance was Giselle - Act II, danced by Nadezhda Pavlova and the occasion was plainly one that called for my mother and Mary's to be collected after the ballet by a mate in his Rolls Corniche ( a car, not a food pun), and together with his mother, driven back to our house for a midnight supper for all.

Inspired by an article in Gourmet by Meg Thomason on late-night suppers we dimmed the lights, set the table with a black cloth, best silver and stemware and loaded it up a with a tureen of double consomme with cognac, cheese and herb scones, crab cakes, cucumber with hand made creme fraiche, amaretti and mascarpone pots de creme and fresh pineapple and strawberries with a strawberry Cointreau sauce.

It's amazing what a silver service supper can do for the appetite. Ten of us grazed and re-lived the magnificent dancing of Pavlova and the Bolshoi company until the small hours. Champagne was the order of the day for refreshment of course.

The experience was a most memorable one, no doubt because it is not something we did every week and our mothers regarded it as a treat of a lifetime. It is certainly to be recommended as a means of extending a pleasurable experience and making it last a lifetime.

Ten years later Mary and I were Christmas-ing in Finland, very close to Santa Claus, at Iso Syote, literally within walking distance of the North Pole. Tiring of bear stew with lingonberries and reindeer casseroles with mashed potato we decided to take the Finnish train from Helsinki to St Petersburg for New Years Eve. As it happened when we got there, Russian friends wanted to take us to the ballet and as it happened, New Years Eve meals traditionally commenced at midnight, amidst the festivities.

The ballet was the Kirov ( patience is a virtue - Harpo Marx would say you can't bring that up now, that's old business), and we traipsed through snow along a frozen Neva in -9 degrees Celsius. Passing Dostoievsky's house and the Pushkin Cafe and under the window from which Rasputin was thrown we walked to the beautiful Mariinsky Theatre wearing our evening clothes and gumboots with our dress shoes in our bags.

At that time there were two radically different prices for ballet tickets, one for tourists and another for locals. Our Leningrad friends, who insisted on shouting but who could never have afforded tourist tickets, passed us off as locals and smuggled us in on their arms chattering loudly to us in one sided Russian conversation.

The ballet was Le Corsair and featured the Kirov's prima ballerina Julia Makhalina. The theatre is of stunning beauty and the dance was breathtaking. Afterwards, not wishing to again brave the grand but intimidating St Petersburg Metro with its cavernous descending escalators, we wandered back to the Hotel Moskva on Nevsky Prospekt some 4 kilometres away, oblivious to the ice cream sellers displaying their delicacies on the sidewalk without the need of refrigeration.

Back at the Moskva things were hotting up and we sipped Champanski with Russian cognac, (a drink known as a brown bear) and found our table on the balcony overlooking the huge hotel ballroom where the entertainment and dancing was to be.

This midnight supper did not resemble our home cooked version a decade earlier but it was indeed interesting. We had sour soup - selianka and borscht, pancakes and caviar and beef stroganov. Ice cream was served at 2.00 am after the show was in full swing with live snakes, jugglers, fire-eaters, gypsies, cossacks, wrestlers, singing, dancing and St Niklaus.

We retired about 4.00 am and then found, having slept through the hotel breakfast hour, that it was impossible to find anything to eat apart from a bottle of Fanta and a Cherry Ripe from a street vendor. We were never so happy as to be back aboard the warmth and comfort of the Finnish train later that day. We cracked a bottle of Champanski as soon as we boarded and were starving by the time we made it to the dining car for a plate of a classic railway dish of Swedish hash called pytt panna - made with pan fried cubes of smoked sausage and ham with potato and onion and a fried egg on top.

Two amazing ballet performances, poles apart and two sensational suppers with a world of difference. So get to it and shake out the black table cloth, get out La Fille Mal Guarde and invite some friends over for a midnight supper.


  1. Hi Stephen
    Absolutely love your latest post. But what is with the displayed posting times, are they correct, all early AMs are you not sleeping?
    let me know on facebook. Cheers

  2. Just beautiful Stephen. What exciting adventures & soirees.

    Took me back to my precocious youth, dancing with Victoria Ballet and doing a masterclass with Mikhail Nikolaevich Baryshnikov in our studios in Fitzroy.

    My Hong Kong raised father sent me along to the session with Borscht for him, the recipe having come from Dad's childhood. He claimed that one of his family's cooks had previously been employed by White Russians who had fled to Honkers. I have no idea if Mikhail drank it.

  3. Hi Stephen. A warm welcome to the world of Hobart food blogging. I love your writing and hope to read much more of it here on your blog.

  4. Thanks so much Rita for your interest in my humble recollection.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.