Lower G/F, 46-48 Cochrane St
“The bortsch is really good, I have to take you there”.
And so it was that I ended up at Russian restaurant Ivan the Kozak, a name that would normally give me a moment’s pause for thought. Ah well, another one to add to the Hong Kong food diary I guess.
Situated in a small alley like street part way up the length of the pedestrian escalator in Central, this is not a restaurant in a location with much random passing traffic. As such, the fact that they were fully booked on this Tuesday evening is testament to their popularity. There was a table free only if I agreed to be out within just over an hour.
Popularity is a funny thing. There are plenty of eating establishments that are immensely popular, and it really makes very little sense, and there are some places with good people serving great food which deserve greater patronage than they get. A lot about popularity is obviously down to subjectivities; my preferences are different to yours, what I deem to be good value is probably different to what my unknown neighbours think, but nonetheless…well…you know what I mean.
I muse about this because of the main courses ordered during this meal, but I will get to them later.
Ivan the Kozak’s décor is arguably a bit kitsch (I’m sure that someone out there would call it ‘period authentic’), but it has been decorated in such an obviously homely and heartfelt way that the experience of being there is actually welcoming, and does not slip over into the realm of wanting to escape a particularly bad theme park.
Ukrainian Bortsch (HKD52)
Ah the famous Bortsch, enjoyed on previous visits by thefamilymember. It didn’t appear odd at the time, and perhaps in retrospect it was, but I was first introduced to Bortsch when I was probably about 7 or 8 by my maternal grandfather, who would take us, when we visited, to have an afternoon tea of Bortsch and tea cake at the China Products store in North Point, Hong Kong. That version was basically vegetable soup, dominated by tomato. I had no idea about the missing ingredient of beetroot for years, as Canberra, where I grew up, wasn’t exactly a hotbed of Russian cuisine at the time.
I’d wager that it still isn’t.
I tried a few spoonfuls of Ivan’s generous serving and yes it was enjoyable and authentic, a hearty simple soup. They had brought along an extra bowl just in case we wished to share.
The entrees are actually quite generously sized. The Pelmeni (HKD65) had a decent amount of filling, the dough was not too thick, and the serving generous enough to be a shared entrée, let alone a single one.
I had wanted the venison dish (described as “succulent roasted venison baked in red wine with vegetables") but it was not available, so I ordered a duck stew (HKD138) instead.
I rather wish that the venison had been available.
I've eaten duck that I could describe as mouth-wateringly good, as ordinary, and even as bad, but on all occasions, I know that I've eaten duck. On this occasion, I honestly couldn't tell.
As I alluded to earlier, I'm sure that there are reasons for this place's popularity (the two entrees were enjoyable), but I don't know whether many people order this dish. It was a fair to middling sort of stew, with the duck being lamentably undistinguished.
Veal Stew (HKD158)
This looks remarkably similar to the duck, doesn't it? Tastewise it was more enjoyable than the duck stew and it was better seasoned, but it left me somewhat indifferent.
This is a friendly restaurant with a nice buzz, and it was full of patrons, including small groups happily taking photos. Part of me wishes that I had found the momentum to visit a second time before I left Hong Kong, just to try another dish or two, but I didn't.