A “banya” is a Russian variation of a steam bath, and it is one of the country’s oldest traditions. It consists of a special room, where a large amount of hot steam is created with the help of water and heated air. A classic Russian banya is a room made of wood, with wide wooden benches along the wall. Traditionally it is heated with firewood, although, some modern versions can use electric heat as well. One of the distinguishing factors, when it comes to visiting a Russian steam bath, is the use of the bath broom (called “venyik” in Russian). It is a bundle of leafy branches from oak or birch trees that is traditionally dipped in cold water and gently smacked all over the body. This is believed to have many health benefits, including the improvement in blood circulation and metabolism.
And “banshiki” are the people working in the steam room, generating the heat and delivering the rituals, like the one with smacking the body with a venyik”. Hence the name of the restaurant attached to Degtyarnie Bani, in the very center of Saint Petersburg.
The two-storey restaurant’s interior is designed to resemble a traditional Russian steam bath, which goes perfectly with the extensive contemporary Russian menu. Here you will find comfortable couches, live greenery, and, while the second floor is slightly more formal, it’s still far from being uptight.
The menu seems traditional at first glance, with borsh and Kiev meatballs (≈$6) at the helm, but it surprises with a refreshingly new take on nearly every dish. The duck breast is paired with beet quinoa, spinach and lingonberry sauce (≈$11) and the cherry ravioli are colored with beet juice (≈$6). The bread, ice cream (buckwheat, fir tree-lemon sorbet, pineapple-melissa and other curious kinds for ≈$2), desserts, jerked beef (≈$5) and smoked fish (≈$2-11) are all homemade and, predictably, delicious.
Strong homemade “nastoiki” (alcoholic infusions) are worth your attention! There are surprising varieties, like buckwheat and beet, among others. White kvass (≈$2) has been served at the steam baths for years and earned great popularity, long before the restaurant was opened. So if you’re curious as to what this traditional Russian drink is — here’s your chance to try. Of course, the wine list also offers more traditional alcohol, and unique herbal teas from the Altai mountains are an excellent non-alcoholic choice.