“I stand in solidarity with all Ukrainians,” says Ukrainian chef Yurii Kovryzhenko, 39, who is opening a Ukrainian restaurant in Chelsea this month with his partner, Olga Tsybytovska, 33.
The restaurant, Mriya Neo Bistro (Mriya means “dream”), will be staffed by refugees, and a percentage of the proceeds will go to charities helping Ukrainians in the UK.
“I want to support other Ukrainians who lost their homes and had to leave their country, giving them jobs and a sense of belonging, unity and identity,” says Kovryzhenko, who grew up in Kyiv. “We cannot allow our dreams to be destroyed.
“The restaurant will also be a way for me to introduce the world to the culture of my country – our heritage, our people and our cuisine. The language of food is a language that everyone can understand.
Mriya will occupy a 37-seat site with a terrace on Old Brompton Road, serving “food you’d expect in a fine dining restaurant, but the friendly service and relaxed atmosphere of a bistro”. Kovryzhenko intends to “fill the space with Ukrainian energy”, from Ukrainian ceramics to images of Ukrainian artists on the walls.
Diners can expect to try both classic Ukrainian dishes and modern variations, inspired by Kovryzhenko’s childhood in Ukraine and his time at culinary schools in France, Spain and Italy.
“The menu will reflect Ukrainian heritage and our national cuisine, transformed and renewed,” he explains. “For example, Mriya’s version of traditional Ukrainian cabbage rolls (holubtsi) will be made with zucchini flowers.”
heart and house
While the menu will change frequently, chicken kyiv (“one of the most popular Ukrainian dishes in the world”) and borscht will be regular features. “Ukrainian borscht has been recognized by Unesco and has recently been added to its list of endangered cultural traditions. It is part of the fabric of Ukrainian life.
“Hospitality comes from the heart and home in Ukraine, where there are many variations of borscht, depending on the region and time of year. Growing up, my mother often made it with pork or chicken. Mriya, we will prepare it with duck, and with porcini mushrooms for vegetarians.
Other dishes include poppyseed cake with caramelized condensed milk, zucchini pancakes with stracciatella and smoked trout, strawberry vinaigrette on cream of green peas with crayfish necks and pampushky ( Ukrainian garlic breads).
Pickled and fermented vegetables will also play a prominent role. “In Ukraine, we have historically fermented and preserved cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes, garlic, apples and plums, because there is a large part of the year when there is no harvest . Pickled watermelon is a Ukrainian specialty,” says Kovryzhenko. “Cereals are also a staple in Ukraine, which is known for its sweet and savory porridges made with wheat, poppy seeds, buckwheat, pearl barley and corn.”
Vodka and wine pairings will draw attention to Ukrainian wines and spirits, including traditional horseradish-infused vodka with honey (khrenovykha).
Kovryzhenko and Tsybytovska finance Mriya themselves, with the help of several British and Ukrainian investors. One is Kyiv-born spirits entrepreneur Dima Deinega, 33, who founded Dima’s Vodka in 2020 – bringing Ukrainian triple-grain vodka to the UK, with barley, wheat and rye .
Ukrainian sommelier Dmytro Goncharuk (head sommelier at Corrigan’s restaurant in Mayfair) is working on the wine list, which will feature Ukrainian wines from Kolonist, Villa Tinta, Beykush Winery and Stakhovsky Wines, produced by Ukrainian tennis star Sergiy Stakhovsky.
“A lot of people don’t know that there are wine regions in Ukraine, and that Ukraine produces good wine, in the south, on the coast and in the Carpathian mountains. One of my tasks is to challenge outdated perceptions of Ukrainian food and wine. I want people to try it,” says Kovryzhenko.
Kovryzhenko has been an ambassador for modern Ukrainian cuisine for many years, working with the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a culinary diplomat representing Ukraine worldwide. As co-founder of the Alliance of Slow Food Chefs in Ukraine, he works closely with Ukrainian farmers and small food producers to promote Ukrainian products internationally.
Kovryzhenko and Tsybytovska arrived in London in February to host a dinner at the Ukrainian Embassy, but were unable to return after the Russian invasion. They have since held fundraising pop-ups and dinners in support of Ukraine, working with top UK chefs including Jason Atherton and Tom Sellers.
Fly the flag
As a “food diplomat, not a warrior”, Kovryzhenko’s mission now is to rally the collective resistance against Russia, using his influence here in London to support Ukraine, rather than returning to combat. “At a time when the news is filled with the atrocities of war, it is more important than ever to fly the flag of Ukrainian culture. I can do more to help here,” says the chef, who backed the Michelin Guide’s decision to suspend Russian restaurant recommendations. “Promoting Russian tourism is money for bombs and rockets.”
In 2012, Kovryzhenko launched Ukrainian restaurant Kobzar in Tbilisi, Georgia, before moving to Lviv, Ukraine, where he ran upscale restaurant Vintage Nouveau. In 2019, he opened a Ukrainian restaurant in Seoul, South Korea, named Trypillia (after the Neolithic Trypillian civilization of Ukraine; Trypillia means “three fields” in Ukrainian).
Since the outbreak of war, he has had to suspend his last business, a restaurant in Kyiv named Itzel, for the foreseeable future. “I don’t think we will be able to reopen it for a very long time,” he said.
“As well as creating jobs for Ukrainians in the UK and raising funds for Ukrainian refugees, Mriya is a way for me to find myself as a leader in this town, where I have found that there is had great support for Ukraine among other chefs and within the hospitality industry.
“We’ve been so busy raising funds and preparing for the restaurant to open that sometimes I lose track of the days, but that saves the sadness.”