Sem­pre: A Feast for the Senses

This green restau­rant is a bold foray into a new kind of din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence

The Moscow Times - - OUT & ABOUT - By Alas­tair Gill art­sre­porter@ime­dia.ru

Sem­pre caught my at­ten­tion shortly af­ter it opened in late May: Its prom­i­nent po­si­tion on Bol­shaya Dmitro­vka makes it hard to miss. It might also have been some­thing to do with the vast swathe of fo­liage hang­ing from the ceil­ing – there aren’t many places in town that look like a botan­i­cal gar­den from the out­side.

And as you will find out, Sem­pre is no or­di­nary restau­rant. It is the first es­tab­lish­ment of its kind launched by Bel­gian en­trepreneur Gust Sem­pre. His com­pany Sem­pre Life spe­cial­izes in global in­te­rior de­sign projects us­ing house­hold goods made by the com­pany. The fo­cus is on loose, un­even forms and tra­di­tional nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als: glass, metal, wood, stone. Think of it as a kind of up-and-com­ing, pa­gan Ikea.

In or­der to fa­mil­iar­ize peo­ple with its at­mo­sphere and phi­los­o­phy, Sem­pre has now de­cided to open a restau­rant in Moscow, which, as one of the staff ex­plained, is a test run be­fore the com­pany opens new lo­ca­tions in other cities around the world. This, you see, is be­cause the cut­throat world of Moscow’s din­ing scene is the per­fect acid test for a restau­rant. Still with me?

Be­fore we go any fur­ther, let’s get some­thing out of the way: Sem­pre is that dreaded of beasts, the “con­cept restau­rant.” But be­fore your prej­u­dices take over, al­low me to re­as­sure you: I also came loaded with ap­pre­hen­sions, most of which were hap­pily dis­carded at the door.

Sem­pre is all about shar­ing, let­ting go of your in­hi­bi­tions and the con­di­tion­ing that dic­tates how we nor­mally be­have in restau­rants. The light­ing is low and most of the seat­ing is around long stone and wooden ta­bles. This cre­ates an laid-back, friendly at­mo­sphere in which ta­ble­shar­ing – and con­ver­sa­tions – come nat­u­rally.

Ev­ery de­tail re­flects a de­vo­tion to in­te­grat­ing nat­u­ral el­e­ments into a mod­ern set­ting, from the moss and fan­tasy wash­basins in the toi­lets (fig­ure out how they work for your­self) to the bot­tle racks and the 100 plants that hang over the ta­bles. Imag­ine a cross be­tween a tra­di­tional folk restau­rant, a green­house, and a slick cock­tail bar and you’re get­ting there.

Sem­pre’s ap­proach to food is what Jamie Oliver would call “naked”: clas­sic dishes made with fresh in­gre­di­ents, pre­pared with a min­i­mum of fuss. The PR peo­ple have given it the slightly un­for­tu­nate moniker of “con-fu­sion,” but we’ll for­give them this mis­step. The menu is re­fresh­ingly sim­ple – just 4-5 items per sec­tion.

In keep­ing with the back-to-ba­sics aes­thetic, there are no forks at Sem­pre, just a spoon and a knife made of beaten steel. This means get­ting a bit ne­an­derthal with your din­ner, which is served on ei­ther stone plat­ters or wooden trenchers.

Still, when the food is this good, no­body’s com­plain­ing. A tangy, tex­tured beef tartare with lime and oys­ter sauce dress­ing for 570 rubles ($9.60) laid the ground­work, but the “ayayay grilled chicken” with mint sauce (685 rubles) stole the show. In no time at all I was chan­nel­ing my in­ner cave­man, fin­gers sticky with chili teriyaki sauce, chicken juice run­ning over my hands. The grilled veg­eta­bles (495 rubles) were sim­ply pre­sented, juicy and per­fectly done.

The cynic in you (and me) will say this all adds up to the use of a restau­rant as a PR tool. And while it’s easy to make fun of Sem­pre’s af­fected con­cept, it of­fers a re­fresh­ing an­ti­dote to the twin evils that plague Moscow restau­rants: the cold snooti­ness of the glamor crowd and the too-cool-for-school pose of the “hip­ster” set. It’s cosy, it’s in­for­mal, it’s a lit­tle messy, but most of all, it’s good fun. +7 (495) 249 5009 moscow.sem­pre.life/ 22 Bol­shaya Dmitro­vka Metro Chekhovskaya

Sem­pre’s nat­u­ral ap­proach is vis­i­ble both in its decor and its pre­sen­ta­tion of food.

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