TARTU - Entering Restaurant Volga is like stepping through time itself. Confronted by the elegantly lavish Art Deco interior, you'd be forgiven for thinking that you've walked into a high-society restaurant of the 1930s.
Indeed, as you take a few steps further and your eyes are drawn to Volga's centerpiece 's a classically restored dance hall, fringed with arch openings and enclosed by a backlit stained-glass ceiling 's you feel quite certain that 2008 is an epoch away.
Seated in the center of the upper floor, I was offered a panoramic view of delicately laid tables adorned with slender candles and designer wineglasses, a fitting accompaniment to the decor. I had previously been told that Volga had undergone restoration in 2006, with the entire building being outfitted according to photos and records of its interwar appearance, but only by experiencing it first-hand could I truly appreciate the scope of the effort.
At this point I realized that the grand impression set by Volga's decadently chic interior had already convinced me of the restaurant's excellence 's a foolish supposition to make before even seeing a menu, let alone trying a dish.
Snapping out of my awe-inspired trance I resolved to remain critical; after all, what makes a good restaurant if not the food? I probed the menu intently, repeatedly flicking through the exclusively Old World wine list with a longing for that which I could not afford. After a considerable period of contemplation, my mind wrestling with the half-dozen starters on French-Mediterranean-cum-Estonian menu, I was ready to make my order.
As a first course I had the roasted scallops with creme of leek, mini asparagus, caramelized plum and balsamic-thyme sauce. My previous Estonian seafood experiences having been purely herring-based affairs, I was curious to see how agreeable the scallops and their accompanying palette of flavors would be. I was pleased to find the delicate combination mingled exceptionally well, and the dish tasted every bit as good as it sounds on the menu.
While waiting for the main course 's roasted duck fillet with pea risotto, mustarded apricots and pomegranate-port wine sauce 's and being tended to by the exceptionally attentive waitress (my wine glass was never less than half full), I found myself yet again falling under the spell of Volga's ambiance.
Bathed in the soft candlelight, my vernacular occasionally slipping into some estranged aristocratic variant of English, I felt as though I should be engaging in high diplomacy; like I should be carving up the states of Europe rather than the duck that was now in front of me.
Still sizzling as the dish was unveiled, the duck exuded a rich appetite-whetting aroma, giving me all the encouragement I needed to tuck in. My choice of mains was rewarding; the tender fillet, set above a steaming bed of risotto and thoroughly imbued with the fruity and rich pomegranate-port jus, made a sumptuous meal.
Feeling deeply content but choosing to ignore this, I battled though a delicately rich baked plum-marzipan delight, all the while humming along to Frank Sinatra's fitting 's if a tad clichedÃ© 's presence in the background. Now feeling a little over-content, I swilled the rest of my wine and reflected on what had truly been a first-class dining experience.
With posh elegance, immaculate service, equally immaculate food and a bill to fit, dining at Volga is definitely an indulgence rather than an everyday affair. That said it is an extravagance of the best kind, an experience so complete that you'll leave feeling oddly nostalgic about a completely unbeknown era.
Maybe not ideal for a casual weekday meal, but if you're looking to arouse the majesty of the Old Town and truly romanticize Tartu; there is no better choice than Volga.
KÃ¼Ã¼tri 1, 51007 Tartu, Estonia.
Phone: +372 730 5444