Sempre: A Feast for the Senses
This green restaurant is a bold foray into a new kind of dining experience
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.