Where to go for your luxury Russian delicacies
PUBLISHED: 07:00 12 September 2016
Hampstead Garden Suburb’s Russian oasis, Dacha, has supplied the area’s oligarchs and international footballers
When you are seeking the most expensive caviar, the finest wines from the Caucasus or the humblest pot of Polish cherry jam, you can be assured Dacha, the delicatessen on the edge of Hampstead Garden Suburb, will have not one but ten varieties.
A visit to Dacha Food Shop – Dacha is the Russian word to describe the wealthy man’s country villa – offers an exotic travelogue round parts of the world most of us see only in the news, and often fraught with difficulty.
But Dacha is an oasis of calm, where oligarchs or their staff quietly scrutinise smoked herrings, finely packed and bottled vodkas, rough rye breads and other Eastern European delights.
There they find Beluga and Osetra caviars costing £3000 a kilo, Georgian wine that ranks as some of the finest from Eastern Europe, smoked fishes from Lithuania and so on.
In fact Dacha has the entire array of foods that any Russian cook or housekeeper could desire to provide a slap-up Russian meal.
Yet not all of Dacha’s products have sky-high prices and the customer of modest means but with a curiosity about the Russian cuisine will find something there to interest him or her.
This unusual Slavic Aladdin’s den offers a glimpse into a different world both of private wealth and of gourmet culture.
The shop is in the heart of the Suburb, and Audrone Baltulyte, the director of the shop, says that the wealthy Russians occupying grand houses on Winnington Road, Bishops Avenue, Norris Lea and the vicinity will occasionally visit the shop themselves or with their children.
“I don’t look at their names,” she says diplomatically.
In many cases the Russian staff are sent to Dacha to do the family food shopping. 90 per cent of the clientele are from Russia.
One regular visitor, before he divorced, was ex-Arsenal footballer Andrej Arshavin. He has moved on after an illustrious career with the club.
But when he lived in the Suburb would visit Dacha and bought large quantities of his favourite Russian produced soft drink.
Audrone and her partner Malith took over the shop in 2011. Audrone, who came to the UK from Lithuania in 2004 speaking no English, says she has “learnt everything on the job. I knew nothing when I opened the doors.”
Malith, who is Sri Lankan, still speaks no Russian, yet knows a lot about food, having worked for the catering company Compass.
The two have set about building a small empire to cater to London’s fast-growing Russian and central European clientele. Audrone is “amazed by the way the Russian community in London has grown.”
The first stage of the expansion from the HGS base was the setting up of a shop on Ballard’s Lane Finchley Central, two years ago.
This reaches a slightly different clientele of Lithuanians, Poles, Latvians and Ukrainians. A shop in Fulham is the latest outpost of the fast-growing Dacha business.
The next step is the establishment of a small restaurant inside the Hampstead Garden Suburb location.
A Russian chef trained in London has been hired to make piroshkis, borscht, coulibiac, kasha and a host of authentic Russian foods.
It is expected to open in the middle of October.
Dacha attracts those who have a discerning palate and want authentic produce, says Malith. He insists on visiting producers of the caviars and wines that he stocks.
His encyclopaedic knowledge of caviar and the producers enables him to source caviar from China, Iran and even Italy.
“The Italians produce excellent caviar, it’s the second most expensive after Iranian caviar.”
The shop doesn’t sell caviar from Russia as the country bars caviar exports to protect its home market.
Dacha also boasts the country’s largest selection of red caviars, made from salmon eggs rather than from the eggs of sturgeon.
The selection of Georgian wine is equally rigorous. Malith complains about the numbers of countries in the Baltic region producing fake Georgian wines. “We have direct contact with producers.”
Customers at Dacha can be assured that they will be drinking the real thing, albeit at a price.
Dacha, 34 Aylmer Parade, London N2 0PE and 74 Ballards Ln, London N3 2BU, 0208 341 2475.