A new standard: a sophisticated, modern version of authentic Ukrainian cuisine

Maria Banko tells Bohdan Nahalyo about a successful social-corporate-patriotic model of restaurant business in Ukraine

Show hosts

Bohdan Nahaylo


Maria Banko

A new standard: a sophisticated, modern version of authentic Ukrainian cuisine
A new standard: a sophisticated, modern version of authentic Ukrainian cuisine

Hello and welcome to Ukraine Calling, your weekly review of what’s been happening in Ukraine with a focus on a main issue. I’m Bohdan Nahaylo for Hromadske Radio in Kyiv, and here’s a look at some of the stories that were in the news this week.

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FOCUS INTERVIEW: “We want to go deeper, to explore history, to explore authentic Ukrainian Cuisine, to re-think it and create something modern.” Maria Banko tells Bohdan Nahalyo about a successful social-corporate-patriotic model of restaurant business in Ukraine.

Nahaylo: Welcome to the latest discussion focusing on a theme. And today we will be looking at how one of the most successful restaurant chains in Ukraine – The Borisov Gastro Family- is prepared for, and responded to, Eurovision. In fact, as I was coming in to the studio, Verka Serdiuchka, some of you may recall him, was filming outside with what I suppose was an imitation of former Soviet May day parade. All in good humour. But it gives you an idea of the vitality and colour in the streets of Kyiv on the very eve of Eurovision. There have been a lot of preparations for Eurovison and we will be talking a little bit more about this but the Borisov Gastro Family have done very well. They’ve prepared themselves and they have got probably one of the best spots in Kyiv, on Sofiivsky maidan, on Sofiivsky Square, where they’ve put up several pavilions with representing the various restaurants that Borisov has. So to talk about all of this and the state of tourism and the restaurant business in Ukraine, and anything else related to Eurovision, I’ve invited Maria Banko, who is the Public Relations Manager for Dmytro Borisov and his chain Borisov Gastro Family. Welcome, Maria!

Banko: Thank you for introducing me.

Nahaylo: Well, it’s a very busy time for you. After all of these preparations are you pleased how Kyiv looks on the eve of Eurovision?

Banko: It’s a very difficult question. Some ideas and some products are on a very high level and we are very inspired. But some of them are just a little bit vague. We want to present Kyiv as a modern city and something could have been done maybe better.

Nahaylo: Let’s start with the Borisov Gastro Family. You know, I’ve invited you here not to simply give a plug for your company, but I confess that two of my favourite restaurants in Kyiv are Ostannya Barykada on the Maidan, and Kanapa on Andriivskiy Uzviz. These are my favourite. These are where I take my guests, my friends, tourists as well. You’ve managed to position yourselves to have a virtual monopoly on Sofiivs’ka Ploscha or Sofiivskyj Maidan in the heart of Kyiv at this moment. How did you manage that?

Banko: Folk Ukraine is a company that organizes holidays at Sofiivs’ka Square. We remember the holidays for Christmas and Easter. They decided not to invite no-name food companies that can produce only grilled meat and mulled wine and nothing more. They invited us to represent modern Ukrainian cuisine, something more than grilled meat, varenyky [Ukrainian dumplings] and so on. We were very pleased and accepted this invitation. We had a month of preparations and now here we are presenting four different districts of modern Ukrainian cuisine at Sofiivs’ka Square now.

Nahaylo: In fact, you started earlier, because Kanapa set the new standard for modern sophisticated cuisine.

Banko: Yes, it was four years ago.

Nahaylo: And now more recently, a year or so ago, if I’m not mistaken, Ostannya Barykada, The Last Barricade.

Banko: Yes, The Last Barricade opened one year ago. Kanapa was the first restaurant of modern Ukrainian cuisine in Ukraine. It was a slightly crazy idea and it was a big dream of Dima Borisov. When it opened, not many people accepted it, not many people could understand it. But we had lots of tourists and we were very happy to present Ukrainian cuisine to them. And now after Maidan and after Revolution of Dignity we have plenty of Ukrainians that are interested in Ukrainian culture and Ukrainian cuisine as well, and we are happy to see them as guests.

Nahaylo: Yes. I mean I too was a bit shocked, or shall we say surprised, when we went to Kanapa and saw black varenyky, for instance, with fish inside. Or, for example, borsch served in a hollowed out halfcabbage. Very novel ideas for me. But the food is genuinely excellent and the service is wonderful. But tell us a bit more about the man with the ideas and the enterprising figure who has created all these new places for Ukrainians.

Banko: Dima Borisov is a big dreamer…

Nahaylo: How old is he about? He is still a young man from what I see…

Banko: 37. Seven years ago he started this. He had great experience in business and marketing as well. But when he was about 30, he decided to have just one cozy place. It was Barsuk, the first restaurant in our Gastro Family. It was a small cozy place, with comfort food. And Dima Borisov was the one who cooked, who served, and who communicated with people. It became very popular because it was something new, it was something completely new for Ukraine. With all the luxury places and not very interesting food. So it was just a huge start.

Nahaylo: So, at the time when there was a lot of wealth around in the Yanukovych period for the wealthy higher ups. This went against the grain, it was quite an experiment, it was quite a risk.  

Banko: Yes, all our projects are very, very risky. And we were happy that after years we can see that they are successful and they are famous and we can develop more and more.

Nahaylo: But the Borisov chain has also set standards not only for the high quality of the food and the service, but you´ve presented cuisine in a very sophisticated way linking to a modern notion of Ukraine. You´ve given Ukrainians and Ukraine in that sphere a modernity that perhaps they lacked.

Banko: It is the main idea of all our new restaurants: Kanapa, Ostannya Barykada, Chicken Kyiv, Vatra. We open Vatra today, this evening. Maybe in two hours we will open a new restaurant of modern Ukrainian cuisine. It will be Steak House. All of our new restaurants are dedicated of this idea of different aspects of modern Ukrainian cuisine. We want to combine our authentic recipes very great diversity of local products and modern techniques to present something completely new and inspiring.

Nahaylo: But what has struck me also is that, for example Ostannya Barykada, it is so Ukrainian, all the products are Ukrainian, the staff speak Ukrainian, and it is linked to the Maidan, it is linked to the Orange Revolution. And maybe those who haven’t been there do not know the secret that it is linked to the last barricade of 1240. It is stationed around the archeological ruins of the gate through which Tatar-Mongols broke through in December 1240, hence – the Last Barricade (Ostannya Barykada). What strikes me is this linkage with patriotism, but done in a very subtle way. It doesn’t sort of overwhelm you with the Ukrainianness, it gives you plenty to think about while you are enjoying your food, and you have concerts there. But it doesn’t hit you have over the head with embroidery, with varenyky and hopak, and all these nice things, but all done sort of in small dosage

Banko: It is our point, our mission to show that Ukrainian culture is more than varenyky and vyshyvanka and hopak…

Nahaylo: What they call sharavarshchyna.

Banko: Yes, it can be modern and it can be a part of international culture and Ukrainian cuisine may be a great part of international cuisine as well.

Nahaylo: Because this is nothing wrong with sharavarshchyna, there are plenty of restaurants that provide that, if you want – the folklore and the ethnic. But you set a new standard by providing a sophisticated version of Ukrainian as a modern version, European version.

Banko: We want to go deeper, to explore history, to explore authentic Ukrainian cuisine, to explore history of Kyiv and history of Ukraine as well, and to rethink it to creating something modern and completely new.  

Nahaylo: How do the idea of the Barykada come around or that spot? How did you come across it? Or are you aware of the history how that restaurant came about?

Banko: The idea of Ostannya Barykada was one of the dreams of Dima Borisov. And then he was invited to create something at this location, a very difficult location, connected with many bloody memories, with a very hard period of our history. It was a challenge for Dima Borisov, and it was a challenge for our team, to create something to inspire people, to make people think about history, not to just enjoy and have a good time. It is something more and it was very hard challenge to have a balance between entertainment and between education, and between history. So, we created this multi-space. It is not only a restaurant of modern Ukrainian cuisine and the first Ukrainian bar in Ukraine. It is museum of three Ukrainian revolutions, and it is also a very great art space, it is a space for political discussion, for social projects…

Nahaylo: Literature discussions …

Banko: Yes. So, it was the way to solve this problem how to create something interesting and inspiring in this very hard and difficult space.

Nahaylo: And Dmytro Borisov probably has subsidized some of the art projects there, because you have concerts almost every night, low key, but there are people who want to listen to good music.

Banko: Yes, we have very good art projects, and we cooperate with many young bands, and with many folk bands who discover authentic Ukrainian music which is very hard to hear somewhere else. And it is our mission to support them, and to make more people know about this part of Ukrainian culture.

Nahaylo: If somebody was that cynical, they would probably say that Mr. Borisov has just cashed in on the patriotic wave that accompanies the Euromaidan, whatever. But as I understand, Kanapa opened even earlier?

Banko: Yes, Kanapa opened four years ago before Revolution of Dignity and…

Nahaylo: That must have taken some planning.

Banko: Yes. He had this idea of creating great, modern Ukrainian place even earlier, maybe six or five years ago. But nobody supported him because they told him ‘you’re a dreamer,’ ‘it’s impossible,’ and ‘nobody will visit Ukrainian place in Kyiv.’ Because we have so many pretty Italian places with pizza and pasta. But he has his dream, and he created his place.

Nahaylo: I must say, with very little advertising. I was struck when friends took me to Ostannya Barykada and in some ways it resembles Kryivka in L’viv. Because you are asked for a password, and it’s quite a secret place. You don’t spot it from the outside, so there’s something novel about that too for Kyiv. But I was struck by the fact that there was no advertising. People seemed to just come over the weeks more and more and more and more, and discover it almost by chance and by word of mouth as its reputation grew. Was this a conscious policy?

Banko: Yes, that’s part of our strategy. We don’t spend money on advertising. We spend money on creating a rather good and impressive and inspiring product, to make people to talk about i.t and to advise it to each other. And that’s our strategy not only for Ostannya Barykada, but for all of our restaurants.

Nahaylo: I was also impressed by one of your latest projects. Tonight, as I understand it, there is going to be a new one opening up next door, Chicken Kyiv. It sounds a bit tacky ‘Chicken Kyiv,’ but it’s a sophisticated restaurant. And I was struck, by someone who likes retro music, Ukrainian retro music, that you’re playing hits from the ‘60s and ‘70s in Ukrainian classic songs about Kyiv. Which is rare to find these days. That also is quite a bold move.

Banko: We started to work on this project a half year ago. And our ad manager communicated with many researchers of Ukrainian culture of this period, and people who explore Ukrainian music of this period, and they helped us to create this really huge collection of Ukrainian retro music.

Nahaylo: That’s fantastic, and a very good idea. You said the theme of the latest one that’s opening, you said ‘meat.’ Is there a Ukrainian connection there?

Banko: Yes, it will be steakhouse Vatra. It’s all about Ukrainian meat, Ukrainian grade dry-aged, and red-aged steaks. And even more, it’s about great lamb, and it’s all about great Carpathian products: fish, mushrooms. Now we want to explore this region, not only Ukrainian cuisine as it is, but it’s our strategy to explore different local and regional cuisines. So, we opened Bessarabia several months ago with great local fish, and great local seafood, and wine, and snails and even frogs.

Nahaylo: You have very good wines at your restaurants. The wines that Dima Borisov picks and Trubetskoi wants, that I like. Ukrainian wines have really improved during the last years. Is it because of western technologies helping the producers? How do we explain that we have very good wines all of a sudden even when Crimea is not under our control?

Banko: It’s because of five or ten dreamers who 10 years ago decided to rethink traditional wine making in Ukraine. They had enough money and enough time and enough power to make wine production better. Yes, we were waiting for results, and now we have them. And some of our wines are really impressive

Nahaylo: What would you recommend for our listeners who are coming to Ukraine?

Banko: Shabo and Trubetskoi wines. There is another good wine: Grand Valley. It’s a new modern wine and wine making company. They produce very interesting wines. And Shabo. Shabo has modernized. Now they have completely new techniques and completely new wines, and some of them are top level.

Nahaylo: So, this is in the Odesa and Kherson regions?

Banko:  Yes. We are waiting for wine making in the Trans-Carpathian region, but we have to wait maybe for 3 to 5 years to develop and to grow up and to produce something really good …

Bohdan Nahaylo: So, something to look forward to. So, before we start wrapping up, and I’d like to return to Eurovision, but just briefly. How would you assess the state of the restaurant business here? You represent a very successful chain that’s booming and is on the cutting edge. But your main competitors, how are they doing? Many people would say these are difficult times economically. Do people have the money to go to restaurants? Do people have the money to invest in restaurants?

Maria Banko: Our economy has been in difficulties for 27 years. But we are living in a time of possibilities. Great possibilities. So when someone has enough money and has great ideas and is willing to take a risk and create something new, now s/he has all the chances to be really successful. And powerful. But if you want to just ear easy money, it’s impossible now.

Bohdan Nahaylo: Quickly. The obvious question. Corruption. Red tape. Bureaucracy. Back handers. Is that still a major problem to get your businesses underway?

Maria Banko: It’s a very, very difficult problem. But if you want to be honest, and if you want to create a new kind of society with a conscience and patience, you can struggle and stand [your ground.]

Bohdan Nahaylo: So, returning to Eurovision, and your positioning of yourself. And I’m speaking to Maria Banko who is the Public Relations Manager for Dmytro Borisov’s chain, the Gastro Family chain of restaurants. You’re positioned so well. You’re on Sofiivs’kyi Maidan. You control the commanding heights of Kyiv there during Eurovision in the culinary sense. How are people responding to you? I noticed something quite revolutionary, that you have kept prices very low. I think 90 hryvnia [3.35 US] was the most expensive item that I could see.

Maria Banko: Yes, all dishes cost 90 hryvia. All of them, even oysters, or fish, or maybe these black varenyky [dumplings] with fish. Or even steak.

Bohdan Nahaylo: Tell us the secret. Why are they black?

Maria Banko: Oh, I don’t know how to translate…

Bohdan Nahaylo: Octopus, maybe?

Maria Banko: Yes, yes, octopus.

Bohdan Nahaylo: I cheated a little bit, since you told me, but I thought our listeners should know the secret.

Maria Banko: Now our food at Sofiivs’ka Square is not about business.,It’s not about making money at all. It’s just our social project to present Ukrainian cuisine, not only to tourists but to our citizens as well.

Bohdan Nahaylo: So it’s a kind of corporate and patriotic responsibility.

Maria Banko: Yes, yes.

Bohdan Nahaylo: That’s very commendable. OK, on the very eve of Eurovision, it’s about to kick off, are you pleased with the reception, with the interest, with the numbers of people? I know that they’re going to increase dramatically in the next days. But the first responses, are they satisfactory?

Maria Banko: Yes, it’s quite OK. But the point is that during Eurovision, and before Eurovision, and after Eurovision, we have plenty of tourists in Kanapa and Barykada every day. Because some people plan their visit to Ukraine just to taste our food, and to check out our new tasting set, and something more. Now we have more tourists, and it’s great. It’s a big challenge.

Bohdan Nahaylo: Ostannya Barykada was listed as the best of the new restaurants last year, if I’m not mistaken. The best start up restaurant.

Maria Banko: Yes.Ostannya Barykada was the best new restaurant. And Kanapa was the best Ukrainian restaurant in Ukraine [serving Ukrainian style food.]

Bohdan Nahaylo: And finally, on a very positive note. We focused on Kanapa, we focused especially on Ostannya Barykada. How many restaurants do you have now in the chain?

Maria Banko: Eleven.

Bohdan Nahaylo: Eleven in Ukraine? Already? Wow!

Maria Banko: Yes, eleven in Kyiv.

Bohdan Nahaylo: Eleven in Kyiv. And any outside of Kyiv?

Maria Banko: We have a partnership with some restaurants, and one of them is Bar Mushlia in L’viv, for example. It’s the first [top] place in L’viv with great local seafood.

Bohdan Nahaylo: Which other two or three would you recommend, if you had to select from among those eleven? For newcomers.

Maria Banko: Well, I’ll recommend Bessarabia, because it’s completely new. And it’s a chance to discover rare local seafood and fish in a new way, with mango-orange sauces. And it’s a great mix of our traditional cuisine and real modern techniques and modern tastes. I’ll recommend that you visit Ronin, because it’s a great place with four terraces, with many places for family entertainment, and with great Nikkei Japanese-Peruvian cuisine. It’s very, very high level, and it’s very sophisticated. And maybe I’ll recommend Okhota na Ovets as the best Asian steak house in Kyiv.

Bohdan Nahaylo: What’s it called?

Maria Banko: Okhota na Ovets

Bohdan Nahaylo: What? Hunting for sheep?

Maria Banko: Yes, yes, it’s devoted to a novel.

Bohdan Nahaylo: So, thank you very much.

Maria Banko: Thank you.

Bohdan Nahaylo: Good luck, and thank you for telling us all about this very courageous effort to modernize Ukrainian cuisine. And also I think we’ve been very inspired to hear that you and your team, and especially its leader, that you’re so committed to this sense of social-corporate-patriotic responsibility. Thank you, Maria.

Maria Banko: Thank you very much.

Bohdan Nahaylo: We’ve been listening to Maria Banko, the Public Relations manager Dima Borysiv’s chain Gastro Family, which is doing a very good job now, on the eve of Eurovision, and will continue to do so next week in Kyiv. Thank you very much.


May Day holidays and Eurovision

Most Ukrainians heaved a sigh of relief as the traditional May Day holidays and celebrations passed off peacefully and they were able to enjoy the good spring weather. All of this week Kyiv has been preparing for next week’s Eurovision song contest.  Participants, visitors and tourists have been arriving, and a special fan zone has been opened on the city’s main street, Khreshchatyk, with more attractions provided on the historic Sofiyiska Square. The mood has been upbeat.

Yanukovych Assets Confiscated

The Ukrainian government has confiscated $1.1billion in assets that was allegedly stolen by Ex-President Viktor Yanukovych and his associates and transferred it to the accounts of the State Treasury.

The money had been held frozen in bank accounts since the Ex-President fled Ukraine in February 2014, forced out by the EuroMaidan protests and Revolution of Doggnity. The National Security and Defence Council said this week that the State Savings Bank had begun confiscating the old regime’s holdings in line with a court ruling. After the ruling, and after a designated time period had passed, no-one had laid claim to the money in question.

Yanukovych charged with High Treason

Former President Yanukovych is also being charged with treason, in proceedings that were started off in Obolon District court in Kyiv on May 4.

He is accused of treason, violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and abetting Russian aggression. Although he is being tried in absentia, he is represented by two lawyers in the court and a judge has ruled that Yanukovych will be allowed to participate by video link.

According to Ukrainian authorities, a key piece of evidence is a letter in which he asked the Russian authorities to intervene in the situation which had developed around the protests.This letter was displayed at a UN Security Council Meeting by the late Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s representative.

The sentence for this charge could be from 10 years to a life sentence. The Military Prosecutor stated that they would be seeking a life sentence.

The War

Shelling continued was shelling all along the frontline this week. According to the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, enemy shelling increased by 30%, while the share of heavy weapons increased by 69%, likely due to new supplies of ammunition being delivered from Russia. As a result, 9 more Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 40 wounded.

And on May 1st, one civilian was killed and another wounded in an explosion when a trip-wire device planted by Russia-backed militants was activated near Mykhailivka. This incident highlights the dangers for civilians living in and near the war zone.

This week an international report was released by the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining, which listed Ukraine as having the highest casualties in 2016 from Anti-Vehicle Mines. That is, 24% of global casualties. In 2016 there were 37 such incidents and 101 casualties registered in Ukraine.

Water supply to Donbass

Minister for Temporarily Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons, Vadym Chernysh, has stated that Ukraine will not stop supplying water to the uncontrolled territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts for humanitarian reasons.

The previous week, Ukraine had cut electricity supplies to the separatist-held territories for the reason that these territories had accumulated large amounts of debt for electricity bills.


Kyiv Art Week

Apart from the preparations for Eurovison, the main cultural even of the week was the opening on 4 May of the second Kyiv Art Week which will run until 7 May.  Implementing the famous international format, the event will bring together museums’ and galleries’ projects, art fair, conference with the participation of international experts, concerts, performances and social events. Kyiv Art Week is becoming an annual event representing the best Ukrainian and world art. Its organizers want the city to appear on the cultural map of international art weeks and gain its proper place alongside with Western counterparts.

Transformation of Monuments

What to do with old Soviet-era monuments that are too difficult to remove, for any number of reasons? Central Kyiv has two interesting cases in the process of finding solutions.

One monument in question is the former monument to Lenin, located on the corner of Shevchenko Boulevard and Khreshchatyk. The granite statue of Lenin itself was toppled during the Maidan protests in December 2013, leaving an empty pedestal. Later, a golden toilet was installed in its place for a while, as a metaphor for state corruption and a sign of political protest. In the last few years, the pedestal has either stood empty or has been used for art installations. Most recently, the art Fund Izolyatsia organized an international competition to build something in this place. The winner, who was chosen by popular vote, turned out to be the project “Ritual of Self-Nature” by Mexican artist Isa Carillo. The installation is to cover the pedestal of Lenin with mint and rosemary plants. The aim is to purify a very controversial place and clear the ideological tension by covering the pedestal of the statue with these fragrant plants.

Another monument is the Former Friendship of Nations Arch, built in Kyiv in 1982 to commemorate the unification of Russia and Ukraine. It’s a huge arc of grey titanium that dominates that part of the riverbank. In the lead-up to the Eurovision contest, in a project initiated by the city of Kyiv, it was renamed the Arch of Diversity and painted in rainbow colours. Although it was expected that the entire arch would be painted, after protests from a few conservative groups, some sections were left unpainted. And that, according to some social critics, is an even better interpretation of the monument. The incomplete rainbow is more representative of Ukraine, which is finding its own path.




Hi, I’m Andriy Izdryk. In case you haven’t heard it, here’s Ukraine’s Eurovision 2017 entry for you to enjoy. If you like it, you can vote for it when the competition begins next week! 


Next week we’ll be following the headlines for you, as always. Tune in for a new episode. And we’d love to hear from you. Write to us at [email protected]. I’m Bohdan Nahaylo for Hromadske Radio in Kyiv. Thanks for listening. 

Interview transcribed by Larysa Iarovenko, Nykole King, Ilona Szieventseva, Max Sviezhentsev, and Marta Dyczok. Headlines and Culture, by Oksana Smerechuk. Music selected by Bohdan Nahaylo. Sound engineer Andriy Izdryk. Web support Kyrylo Loukerenko.