Невский пр., 24, м. Гостиный Двор
9:00 – 23:00 daily
Meals from 120 р, $4
Marketplace is a great place to go for someone easing into the St. Petersburg experience. Just off the plane, hungry, and still a bit intimidated to place an order at a Russian restaurant? This small chain takes some of the edge off. For English-speakers especially, the storefront along Nevsky Prospekt is easy to spot, being one of the few restaurants with a non-Russian name. Once in the door, your experience at Marketplace can be as Russian as you want it to be, as the self-service restaurant has a multinational cuisine.
The relatively new chain’s first location opened at 24 Nevsky Prospekt in summer 2012, but now has four other locations throughout the city. I’ve been to two of them, and can say that while the restaurants vary in size and layout, they have the same atmosphere and a nearly uniform interior. The Vasileostrovskaya location, closest to the university, is a coffee bar on the first floor. Comfy seats abound and free Wi-Fi is up for grabs. Up the stairs is a small but plush dining room with couches and long tables, great for studying or catching up with friends. Past that is the self-service area, but it’s noticeably more compact than the Nevsky location.
Whatever location you head to, the restaurants are divvied up in the same way. The self-service areas are divided into individual stations serving different a la carte items. You spot what you want, place it on your tray and move on to the next. Cook-to-order grills are also available to make certain dishes, like grilled chicken or beef. The best and worst thing about Marketplace is found at the a la carte stations — new students of the language may feel more at ease that the menu items are in English and Russian, and the cooks know both terms for each item. You can even simply point at what you want or grab it yourself without muttering much to any of the cooks. Essentially, it’s easy to cheat here and not use Russian. If not abused, though, this can be really comforting and welcoming to English-speaking students new to Russian and not yet ready to walk into a “stolovaya” and rattle off an order like a regular.
As for the food, you’ll find the Russian staples – shashlik (beef or chicken kabobs), meat-stuffed piroshki, and beet salad. The chicken kabobs are delicious and cost a little over 100 rubles. Served with a spicy, creamy, red dipping sauce, they’re great for those missing barbeque. Keeping with the theme of cuisine from around the world, you’ll also find a “wok” station offering creations with rice noodles, rice, shrimp, and sautéed vegetables. A bowl of stir-fried beef and fresh vegetables like broccoli and peppers will cost about 180 rubles. If you’re in the mood for pasta or a simple salad, you’ll find what you’re looking for,too. Salads especially can be customized – drenched in sour cream or a simple vinaigrette. A mixed green salad with cherry tomatoes, vinaigrette and big hunks of mozzarella cheese will be about 140 rubles.
There are plenty of interesting drinks, too, including a house-made cherry juice which comes with real cherries at the bottom. You’ll see it on almost every patron’s tray. There are also coffee and tea drinks and a tasty- and refreshing-looking non-alcoholic mojito. Desserts are available, too, which range from simple sugar cookies and petite cakes to cheese danishes filled with creamy tvorog, the Russian cheese similar to a sweet ricotta. These treats range from around 35-60 rubles.
Another thing to be said about the restaurant is that it appears to be immaculately clean. The cooks wear crisp chef whites, the countertops are alternatively gorgeous granite or wooden, and Marketplace employees swiftly clear off the table and trays you leave behind on your way out the door. Adding to the effect, both locations I’ve been to have had a generous number of windows, and the natural light really floods the space inside, creating a relaxing ambiance.
For groups and faculty-led tours, Marketplace is not a great option, unless you spot an open couch. In my experience, those seem to go fast. And, though it probably won’t break the bank, you can certainly find cheaper fare elsewhere in the city.