Many years have passed since I last dined at Pena, therefore I am really intrigued to see what has changed from what I remember. So my friend Yevhen and I decide to spend a Thursday evening at the restaurant. Once we cross the threshold, we feel like we are cruising on the ocean, far, far from land.
The whole space is designed like a big ship, starting from the lobby which is smartly yet unobtrusively decorated with a number of authentic old-fashioned equipment and interior elements taken from a real German boat (after it was disassembled) – a barometer, clock, liquid compass, lantern, bell, even a telephone from the engine room. Strikingly, all the tools actually work...
The restaurant has five sections; each of them with its own name – Geography is a cosy room embellished with globe-styled shelves boastings souvenirs from around the world; Pirates banquet hall features a round-table room accommodating six to 10 people who want to talk and dine in a relaxed atmosphere; there’s a terrace that is probably best kept for the summer months; a Japanese room – which is the smallest, but has a very intimate atmosphere and is designed for a company of up to five people; and the central and largest White Hall, where we “cast anchor” and take a seat. The hall gives the impression of being in the hull of an overturned boat, as, looking up, we see a ship deck instead of ceiling. Portholes, soft lighting, subdued lounge music and creamy white colours further enhance our seafaring impression, which whets our appetite for new gourmet experiences.
Being a fish gourmet, I am having trouble deciding which dish I will take when reading through the wealth of options listed on the menu, including oysters, ravioli with scallops, seafood sauté or risotto al nero di sepia. Relying on my choice, my friend Yevhen patiently waits for me to make up my mind. I especially want to try the Pena specialties, so, eventually the server and I make a compromise – I take the Pena-style salad with seafood (scallops, prawns, squid and octopus), vinaigrette sauce and avocado paste. Yevhen is happy to have the fried tuna and anchovies salad.
Next comes what I love about above-average restaurants – a classy show, which testifies to the quality of service of the place, and makes me anticipate an equally quality dining experience. Before our salads are served, the waiter brings us hot napkins to refresh our hands and faces, followed by the chef’s compliments – fresh bread with a homemade green paste consisting of butter, garlic, black volcanic salt and green vegetables. The bread and butter are good to dull the edge off our hunger, without spoiling our appetite.
Our starters arrive pretty soon after and the dishes do not disappoint. The seafood in my Pena-salad is soft, sprinkled with sauce traditional to this kind of dish. At first sight and bite, it is nothing extraordinary, yet everything is well done and balanced. Meanwhile, Yevhen enjoys his salad with Tuna fish, which is really juicy and tasteful, serving as a great starter.
On Course For The Main Course
For main courses I again go for a compromise – a mix of “just a good dish” and a house specialty. Thus, I end up with the Chilean branzino with Chardonnay sauce, whereas Yevhen, following my wise advice, and takes the grand risotto. Branzino has many names, including European sea bass. Yet, call it whatever you like, I love this fish and always try it in different restaurants across Europe. That is why I am eager to find out how they prepare it in Pena. Again I am not disappointed. Firstly, I like the elegant way the food (fish, sauce, garnish salad) is arranged on the plate – this is another benefit provided by higher-end restaurants. The Chardonnay sauce is contained separately in a little phial to let people taste the sea bass with and without additional flavour.
However, I am much more impressed with the dish served to Yevhen – the grand risotto with cod and foie gras. It is surely our favourite of the night. Unanimously Yevhen and I give our best marks to the harmonious blend of two quite opposite things – fish and meat (goose liver) – mixed with a flavoured rice, which appeals to us (or rather our stomachs) the most. It’s not for nothing it is considered Pena’s specialty! We would recommend it as a must for anyone attending the restaurant. Anyway, although I am repeating myself, I can say there is one word that can be applied to all Pena dishes and that word is “light”.
After enjoying not overly large portions, we still have some room for desserts. Here we order a pot of green tea and an assortment of homemade sorbets and ice creams. Knowing everything about tea, my friend Yevhen always complains that it is impossible to find a place in Kyiv where you can drink quality tea. There are many reasons for this. Tea apparently loses flavour when exported from China or India; therefore really good teas are very expensive. Secondly, Ukrainians have not yet developed a culture of drinking tea. So, even in posh restaurants, you do not have the chance to enjoy proper tea.
Ours is not so bad, after all, yet far from ideal. But the homemade vanilla and chocolate ice cream and apricot and raspberry sorbet are delicious, making for a refreshing and even possessing a digestive effect. The palate-tantalising vanilla ice cream with a mint sprig is the perfect finishing touch to the gourmet dinner. Still, it follows the restaurant concept – it is light and soft like foam...
Aftertaste – History In Facts And Figures
With dinner over, we need some food for thought. Let’s talk a bit about Pena’s history. It was opened back in 2002 when there were few fabulous restaurants downtown. Currently it can accommodate up to 100 people, and offer them 120 various dishes a la carte. Now and then the menu is enhanced with new trendy dishes, developed by Chef Yevhen Tishko. He boasts 20-years experience, and has been with Pena for one-and-a-half of those years. In addition, he was listed among the 25 top Ukrainian chefs, according to Focus magazine in 2012. It proves this guy knows a thing or two about cooking. He says that he is able to meet the requests of any client, preparing a dish exactly the way he/she wants. It seems to be true, as the menu contains a wide choice of fish – from barracuda to cuttlefish – cooked as you wish, grilled, roasted, boiled, whatever. Next time you attend the restaurant, try this option!
Pena has a loyal clientele – for example, the Kuzmins family have been dining at Pena since it first opened. Legend has it when Chef Tishko comes up with a new dish, they are the first people to try it. First or last – it does not matter when it comes to the high gastronomy served by Pena; just take your time to savour every bit of its “sea-themed” dishes. Bon appetit and bon voyage!
Pena-style Salad with Seafood (250g) - 297hrv
Fried Tuna and Anchovy Salad (230g) - 179hrv
Chilean Branzino with Chardonnay Sauce (270g) - 370hrv
Grand Risotto with Cod and Foie Gras (250g) - 439hrv
Two Scoops Homemade Sorbet (100g) - 62hrv
Two Scoops Homemade Ice Cream (100g) - 62hrv
Green Tea (400ml) - 70hrv
Grand Total 1,479hrv
Pena Restaurant (Yaroslaviv Val 30/18, M Zoloti Vorota)
Hours: 12.00 –24.00, 234-17-01
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by Anna Azarova