Russia's food curbs hit middle class hard
MOSCOW'S sweeping sanctions on European food have sent Russian restaurateurs, retail chains and food producers scrambling for alternative supplies and bracing themselves for Soviet-style shortages.
The tit-for-tat trade restrictions - a response to the United States and European Union sanctions imposed over Russia's actions in Ukraine - have hurt Western farmers as Russia is the biggest buyer of EU produce.
But they will also hit consumers at home, isolating them from world trade to a degree unseen for more than two decades.
Creamy French cheeses, Australian ribeye steak and seafood risottos are heading off the menu at restaurants after the ban on imports of all fish, meat and dairy produce.
"Prices will go up and certain food stuff will disappear,"said Alexei Paperny, whose mid-priced Moscow cafe, the Children of Paradise - named after a classic French film - was still packed on Friday evening. "We'll do our best to survive... I can't imagine how some restaurants and cafes can exist under the circumstances."
He described the year-long ban on products from the US, the EU, Canada, Australia and Norway as "Russian sanctions against Russians" - a frustration shared by many customers at his cafe.
"It would have been fairer if state officials gave up their Mercedes and began driving Russian-made Zhigulis (Ladas)," said a diner sipping red wine, who gave his name as Yan.
Wealthy with petrodollars while the country's energy reserves drove a strong economy, Russians have enjoyed a rich choice of eateries since the 1991 Soviet collapse - and ate out with the gusto of a generation that still remembered times when shop windows were bare and the streets were empty after sundown.
Sushi is particularly popular and ubiquitous across the country and even gracing the menu of Italian and French restaurants. But it is a food some might now have to do without.
Rosinter, one of Russia's largest restaurant chains which runs sushi cafes nationwide, said more than 50 per cent of the food it serves up is imported.
"It is quite a difficult situation," Rosinter spokesman Elena Mazur said. "(We) face a lot of work, in terms of menu-engineering and pricing."
Most likely to feel the loss of foreign delights are Russia's middle class, who were at the heart of protests against President Vladimir Putin's return to the presidency.
"The measure is likely to further alienate the urban middle class," said Alisa Lockwood, head of Europe & CIS analysis at His Country Risk. But she added: "Decision-makers at the Kremlin have probably calculated that patriotic sentiment will outweigh the pain."
One restaurant in Yekaterinburg has already come up with a special - albeit short - "Sanctioned Menu" of Russian-produced foods, and other food experts are echoing the patriotic fervour.
"There won't be oysters, but we'll make do. We'll live without oysters," restaurateur Andrei Dellos told the Russian TV channel Dozhd.