Once upon a time, two intrepid SRAS students decided to explore affordable options in the very center of Saint Petersburg, near the Gostiny Dvor metro station. However, when they discovered that their original choice didn’t actually open until they had to be in class, they hastily chose Zhili-Bili cafe as a last-minute back-up plan.
Zhili-Bili – the Russian fairy tale equivalent for “once upon a time” – is located right across the street from Gostiny Dvor metro, and you can’t get much more central than this. The cafe has a small outdoor seating area and the inside of the cafe is clean and comfortable. There is no particular atmosphere, but the staff are welcoming and you don’t feel hurried. The only downside is that the entrance to the cafe is initially a little confusing, despite the Zhili-Bili sign hanging over the window. It’s sandwiched between two Japanese restaurants and another sign above the cafe entrance says “Teatr.”
We were greeted the minute we walked in the door, and the staff were nice enough to let us look at the menu board for a minute to decide whether or not we wanted to stay, and didn’t rush us. When we decided to have lunch here, they showed us to a table and brought the menus. We both wanted to order salads, and they showed us to a salad case where we could see the full range (about six of them) and choose. We ordered both a vegetable-noodle salad (150 grams, 90 rubles) and a traditional Russian Olivier salad (180 grams, 144 rubles), which the waitress brought to us before our main dish. Both salads were delicious and filling, although it probably would have been advisable to order less of the Olivier salad, as it was too filling and pushed the budget. Our main courses of rice noodles with chicken and vegetables (190 rubles each) arrived in good time, and were satisfactory. They weren’t drowning in sauce, and the chicken pieces were nicely sized and well-cooked.
Zhili Bili offers a strange variety of food, but this works in their favor as the food should theoretically cater to every taste. Although admittedly they do offer a range of pizzas, it is absolutely possible to at least avoid run-of-the-mill American food. They have more traditional dishes such as borsch and solyanka on the menu, and offer a reasonably-priced chicken shashlik. The rice noodles show yet another side to Zhili Bili, and the range of salads is sure to cater to any taste and most dishes are in the 140-240 ruble range. They also offer a small selection of desserts, but we were both too full after our salad and main course to even think about eating more.
Would I recommend it? Most definitely. Its location makes it perfect for people who want to run in for a quick meal while downtown, and the food is sufficient and filling. They offer a variety of drinks – everything from Russian mors and tea to vodka and beer. If you’re looking for a restaurant with a traditional Russian atmosphere, you would be best advised to go somewhere else. However, if you’re looking for good food at affordable prices, check it out next time you are on Nevsky!
For groups and faculty-led tours, most Zhili Bili locations might be a bit small and too busy. However, for smaller groups, this would be a great location for quick, cheap meal.