PALKIN restaurant (St.Petersburg)

You can count on one hand modern Russian restaurants that have treasured ancient spirit of exclusiveness and Russian gastronomical traditions within their walls . The “Palkin” restaurant is one of them. It was visited by Chaikovsky, Saltykov-Shchedrin, Leskov, Dostoevsky, lawyer Kuni, members of royal family and many other famous foreign artists and high-ranking persons. Many foreigners are eager to get here, sometimes it is impossible to book a table – the same situation used to be many years ago. History and modernity go side by side in St Petersburg, and it’s no coincidence that “Palkin” has become of the brightest examples of that.  This time Rustam Navruzov (the managing director of the restaurant) has become our attendant in the restaurant. We are very thankful to him for his interview and assistance in creating historical feature.


So, we are in one of the oldest Russian restaurants. Why “Palkin”? The name originates from surname of a merchant of top guild - Anisim Palkin, who became the founder of restaurateurs’ family (The Palkins). He opened his first place in 1785. He owned more than 10 taverns that used to be the most famous and attended places of the city that time. Anisim Palkin used to run other his subsidiary companies from one of his taverns, where the restaurant “Palkin” appeared after 100 years. It was opened by Konstantin Palkin in 1875, the grandson of that Anisim Palkin. That time the restaurant occupied 2 floors, and the architect Kreizer overbuilt 2 more floors later. From that time “Palkin” had become one of the biggest entertainment places in Petersburg. 25 halls used to be here: billiard rooms that attracted young people, specials rooms like casinos, theatre rooms, banquet halls, also main halls of the restaurant. “Palkin” played a significant role in life of St. Petersburg. Chaikovsky used to perform here, Koni used to visit this place, Saltykov-Shchedrin, Leskov, Dostoevsky were frequent clients here and literature evenings used to be arranged for them here. Interesting fact: writers that didn’t shake each other’s hands at street sat at one table here. The most famous foreign singers and actors of that time performed here during banquets.

Sometimes amusing situations occurred. For instance, Saltykov-Shchedrin, according to contemporaries, often visited “Palkin” to kill loneliness. He enjoyed joking at waiters. That time there was a huge pool with fish. You could order the fish. So, Mikhail used to show at some fish, asked to weight it, waiters started to bother, weight, but that guest suddenly used to refuse to order it. Waiters were furious, but for Saltykov-Shchedrin that was funny entertainment. Yes, these things happened.

When Konstantin Palkin passed away (the end of 19th century), his wife tried to tackle the business. But that was so huge business that she couldn’t cope with it. Then the restaurant was repurchased by Soloviev (merchant of top guild), who owned gastronomic shop on the first floor, where he sold exotic things from all over the world. He was one of the most respectable and rich persons in the city. But then “dry law” forced almost all pubs of the city to close. “Palkin” was trying its best to exist, but there were too big expenses. Eventually it got empty and it had to be closed (in 1918-1919). Then there was period of repressions. Prison was arranged the cellar. Second floor was occupied with cinema, where was the opening night of famous film “Chapaev” and Joseph Stalin attended it, as that was his favourite film. On other floors there were communal flats; during blockade premises were occupied with barracks. So, history of this restaurant has suffered many difficult periods.

At the beginning of 90-es the question of rebirth of the restaurant came up. After 3-year-period of renovations, in March 1995, at the place of cinema one elite casino-club “Premier” was opened.  It was with nice restaurant that in no small degree inherited unique club spirit of “Palkin”. Igor Bogdanov, historian, during two years was collecting historical data about “Palkin” and eventually he wrote a book with 12 pages that was issued in amount of 7oo copies.  Everything was reconstructed here according to that book. Reconstruction was confided in employees of Russian museum of Hermitage.  They were reconstructing it about 5 years, according to photos, magazines, personal stories (for example, Bunin wrote about the restaurant and others). Apart from safe of Konstantin Palkin, other ancient details didn’t almost remain. But ancient cookery book remained here. It was very old, third of it was irreversibly lost, but the rest of it was recovered.



Now the restaurant looks like a museum in best traditions of Russian art – thanks to wonderful work of renovators. Walls of “Palkin”, for example, are decorated with mosaic work of Alexander Zadorin, whose works can be found in Hermitage and in the Russian museum. In the fireplace room (it was office room of Konstantin Palkin) all facing work was almost reconstructed and the chimney is cleaned once or twice a year. By the way, it is considered that if there is white smoke above “Palkin”, it means that the fireplace room is busy and it cannot be booked that day.


Almost every table is decorated with fresh flowers – and it is everyday work of florists. Chess table is also remarkable, many years ago guests used to play chess with bar keeper that was considered to be the most respectable person of the restaurant. He weighted about 150 kg (it was a requirement for this position) and nobody could disobey him; even guests were afraid of him, according to rumors.  “Azbuka” – that was the name of the game that was offered to play with the bar keeper. Different drinks were put on a chess table and guests had to drink and tell its content. Generally speaking the meaning of this game was to outgame the bar keeper. If guest managed to win, the restaurant had to pay the bill of the guest, but if he lost – than guest should pay for all drinks. But honestly speaking, outgaming of bar keeper was almost impossible.


Menu hasn’t changed a lot. Many dishes were taken from old cookery book. For example, “hare cutles” were served in honor of wedding of Nicolas the second and Alexandra Fedorovna in the Winter Palace. Or “smoke steerlet”, which is smoked in white wine, is served in the same way, as it used to be done for Saltykov-Shchedrin. The same tradition concerns different cabbage soups (shchi), pickle soups (rassolnik), classical Olivier (with serpent grass, veal tongue). The kitchen still remains Russian and French.


This is very important topic of such aristocratic gastronomic place as “Palkin”. Here is sommelier school where all employees of the restaurant have been taught. Classes are every day, they are conducted by Tatyana Sharapova, famous enologist. In general, it is some kind of merger of two companies: “PRO SOMMELIER” and “PALKIN”. The course lasts about 6 months: students have degustations, then they go abroad (to vineyard) for training. The wine collection is not very big here, but wines are very valuable (as they may not be met in other countries and they can surprise advanced collectors). For example, here is wine “Pétrus” of 1964 that is very valuable, as there are only no more than 100 bottles of this type all over the world. Also here is Mouton-Rothschild.

Nowadays the restaurant is studying thoroughly  Russian winemaking. There is a view that Russian winemaking “is kneeling up” and actively developing. For example, Krasnodar region can offer quite good wine, which quality is getting better from year to year and it is attracting enologists from Italy, France and other countries. Quite often Russian wine during “blind” testing can win its Italian competitor, for example. This situation is becoming more and more frequent.

(interview with the managing director)

- How does the situation look like in terms of attendance and persistence towards crisis?
- The rush around the restaurant doesn’t stop even nowadays.  It is very popular, especially among famous persons: politicians, artists, musicians. We think that achievement of success in possible in premium segment. Even now, look: all premium hotels are overwhelmed because of convenient currency rate. And all places here are already booked at popular dates.  We choicely select products of good quality – and this makes some difficulties, as we have to do import phaseout because of sanctions. Now 80 % are native products (meat, fish). Prices are quite high here, as our restaurant is in premium segment (lux) and our guests are well off people. But the restaurant can offer dishes for reasonable price. Different dishes are in different price segments. Here you can find many things based on your own preference, including wine.

- What other features of the restaurant can you distinguish?
- One of the most important features – we have our own service school. It is very important, when restaurant of such level has its own descendants. It is very difficult to find a waiter that would be absolutely devoted to company and that would be sincerely involved to its life. It is considered that position of the waiter is kind of a part-time job, but here we break these stereotypes. Our waiters are well paid, as we think that good waiter, barman or sommelier are important assets of the company. 

- So, you would never take anyone “from a street”, wouldn’t you?
- We can hire such person, but often they cannot survive here, as it is very challenging to readjust from one type of service to another. There are projects, where service is not the main thing, where accents are made on interior luxury, but we consider that interior luxury is secondary thing. The most important is good food, high quality of products and professional team.

- What about staff? Is it stable?
- Yes, it is. Normally turnover in restaurants is very high, but here it almost doesn’t exist. People work here during 5-6 years, even 10. This culture in Russia is very rare. In Europe you can notice it almost always. There you can meet old waiter, who is very positive and nice and, at the same time, who is a great professional. Try to find such person in Russia! Perfect waiter can be either brought up, or you can draw away someone. But for us it is more convenient to have own service school. All have good working conditions here, good salaries and good relationship with directors that is also quite important. And, of course, high quality of products. We even sometimes overpay for products to comply with company mission, we can bear big expenses, but, anyway, our guests will be offered the highest quality of product.

- What is the mission and goals of “Palkin”?
- I would say that mission is to provide every guest with presidential service, irrespective of his rank and status. We do not share our guests into any assumed groups. Goal is profit. Anyway, profit is goal, but all have their own ways of receiving it. Company should win, your workers should win, your guests should win – than it will bring to some synergy.

- Let’s talk about guests of “Palkin”. How does restaurant build relationships with its guests, especially when “difficult” guests visit?
- Guest is always kind of a child that should be appeased. Curios happen. There are difficult guests, when they come in a bad mood, when they act disrespectfully. In this case we try to work with him carefully, but when it goes beyond the limit, we refuse to serve this guest, as we value respectful attitude towards our staff. Moreover, we take care of guests in some difficult situations, for example, we take him to his house or pay attention to our guests in other ways.

- What about foreign guests and their percentage?
- Well, they are about 80%. At all times they were more that 50%, as Russian and French cuisine supposes good flow of foreigners. Also, almost every foreigner wishes to taste high Russian cuisine. I am not speaking only about traditional borch. We are bringing this food into masses. We arrange different gastronomic evenings devoted to different regions of Russia, where you can taste regional food accompanied by drinks. We also arrange different types of degustation of Russian winemaking, also master classes and etc. We are trying to be socially active.

-What about plans and dreams of “Palkin”?
-Well, we do not take a long shot in our plans. But among short-term plans is production of some our own products. For example, greens. We want to have our own mini-green land. Also to make a full import phaseout, we make a lot of efforts. Restaurant would like to grow. We had some offers to open branch offices in Moscow and abroad (in Boston, for instance). But we get started long, we are too careful in this way. But, in perspective, we are sure that “Palkin” will appear in different parts of our planet.

© gayanat project, 2015