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Local Knowledge: Moscow

Director of Shakespeare theatre company Cheek by Jowl Declan Donnellan walks us through the essential sights and his favourite cafés and restaurants of his hometown.

The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow

Alamy, Alistair Muir

When I first went to Moscow more than 30 years ago, it was called “the Big Village”. Now Pushkinskaya Square lights up like Las Vegas.

My local canteen is Moloko, a downtown café open 24/7 in a former Soviet dairy shop. For the sinful, it serves especially penitent food during Orthodox Lent. It’s fun to see people discussing business deals and leg waxing over plates of buckwheat and cabbage.

A common hazard in Moscow restaurants is deafening music and multiple TV screens showing continuous catwalk scenes – so boring you start to hallucinate. CDL, by contrast, is a quiet spot in a beautiful mansion that serves great traditional Russian food. One half is trendy and redesigned, the other is for members only who are served Soviet-style dishes such as chicken Kiev, pirozhki and borsch by women in old-fashioned uniforms with aprons and those odd tiara-style hats. I became a member recently after opening Measure for Measure.

We take visitors to the Eliseevsky food shop on Tverskaya: masses of food brilliantly displayed, basically unchanged from Tsarist times. A great place to buy Russian biscuits, chocolates, caviar, and vodka, of course.

Who knew Moscow has great ice-cream?

For the finest Russian art I love the Tretyakov Gallery. The icons in particular are breathtaking.

With more than 250 theatres in the city, I try to see work by my friends and colleagues at the Bolshoi, Moscow Art Theatre, Pushkin Theatre and Theatre of Nations.

On a rainy afternoon I love seeing the paintings I know well at the Pushkin museum.

The quintessential Moscow experience is a long evening in a friend’s apartment. You really have to spend a night sharing vodka and pickles with Muscovites to discover what they’re really like.

Declan Donnellan is the artistic director of Cheek by Jowl theatre company.

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