With jars of pickled lemons, photos of Lenin and 70s wallpaper, Ilja Kaplan and Georgi Solanik have brought Russian summer house—or dacha—charm to Berlin. Their three restaurants in Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg serve a modern take on traditional Russian favourites.
“Beer doesn’t inspire me,” says Ilja Kaplan. “It’s vodka that gets the ideas flowing.” One of those ideas was the restaurant Datscha, inspired by the eponymous Russian country homes and run by Ilja Kaplan and Georgi Solanik. “In Russia you bring everything you don’t need to the dacha — cans, pictures, jars,” explains Ilja Kaplan. “And we jar almost everything. There’s no fresh produce in Russia during the winter.”
There are three Datscha restaurants in Berlin — in Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, and Prenzlauer Berg. Here, in the most recent addition to that family in the Helmholtz district, sits Ilja Kaplan, surrounded by wallpaper from the 1970s, golden birds, pictures of Lenin, and large glass jars filled with pickled lemons. Ilja Kaplan first came to Berlin in 1990. Five years later, he opened his first restaurant, Gorki Park. “It’s been a family business from the beginning. We would never have made it otherwise,” he explains. The first Datscha opened in 2007. His sister still manages the kitchens at all of the restaurants.
Ilja Kaplan’s Datscha and Gorki Park restaurants are certainly inspired by traditional Russian cuisine, but they don’t stop there — both offer a range of new creations with many vegetarian and regional ingredients. “We don’t have vareniki with red beet and plum filling in Russia,” says Ilja Kaplan.
Datscha is designed to be a place to relax, just like in Russia. “Dachas have always been places for Russians to kick back — private spaces where we can be free, where we can be ourselves.” Underlining that sentiment is the saying written in Cyrillic on the grass-green bar: “Every citizen has the right to rest and leisure.” Ilja Kaplan has turned this excerpt from the Russian constitution into the motto of his Datscha restaurants.
But that motto is accompanied by another, one that contends that Russia is not so different from the rest of Europe — indeed it is part of the collective European culture. “Russia is not just bears, Russian dolls, caviar, and the balalaika — it is so much more than that. We’ve got contemporary cuisine, for example.” Of course, guests at Datscha can still get a taste of traditional borscht, too.
All photos by Lena Ganssmann
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