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Meet the Russian couple bringing the tastes of Siberia to the East End

Eat | Drink | Explore

Drawing on her childhood experiences camping, hunting wild game and avoiding bears in the Siberian wilderness, chef Elena Ambrose and her husband Serge are building a following for their East Terrace restaurant, Siberia.

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With a focus on wild game meat, Siberia holds a unique place in Adelaide’s culinary landscape.

Helmed by chef Elena Ambrose, who grew up hunting and trapping animals as a young teenager in the Siberian wild, the restaurant is based on the chef’s experience foraging from the forest in her childhood.

The menu features wild venison and boar, duck, alpaca shanks and emu fillets, while dessert includes light and fluffy crepes and Elena’s house-made ice cream flavours, which include gorgonzola blue cheese.

It’s almost two years since Elena and Serge opened Siberia on East Terrace, which sits alongside Adelaide establishments Africola and Golden Boy, and yet the restaurant is still somewhat undiscovered.

Serge, who runs front-of-house, believes it’s a combination of timing and location.

“Even though we’ve been open for more than a year, we are still a very new and unknown restaurant with a very unique menu,” says Serge.

Siberia restaurant. Photo: John Krüger

The couple signed the lease just before the start of the Adelaide Fringe in 2019, right at the onset of the pandemic.

Serge is still trying to get the restaurant’s name out there and hopes this year’s festival season will help boost its name.

“When the borders are open, easily half of our restaurant is filled up with interstaters from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne,” says Serge.

“Our goal is to be one of the top 10 restaurants in Adelaide. That’s our aim.”

The couple’s passion for the restaurant is evident in the way they have ingrained themselves into the concept. The menu features a two-page explanation of Elena’s background.

Born and raised in Siberia, Elena would follow her father on work camping trips into the Siberian forest to complete ecological surveys.

Her father taught her to identify bear and tiger tracks so as to be able to steer well away from them. She also learned to live off the land – gathering berries and mushrooms, hunting game and using plants to make herbal concoctions and teas, as well as hunting fish, rabbits and hares, deer, and wild pigs, all of which she learned to skin, gut and preserve.

“By the time I was a teenager, I was quite adept at cooking with all the things in the forest,” says Elena.

“This gave me a solid grounding of what types of foods went together and also how to understand the methodologies of cooking, rather than by recipes.”

Not only did she learn from her father, but Russian schools were also required to teach cooking to girls from about the age of seven.

Siberia restaurant on East Terrace. Photo: John Krüger

Serge and Elena first met six years ago when they crossed paths and Elena overheard Serge speaking Russian on the phone.

“She made a comment to me, I made a wisecrack back and then asked her out on a date,” says Serge. “Now we’re married and have a restaurant.”

The location was previously occupied by the long-running East Terrace Continental.

“This place had been closed for 12 months before we got here and it looked like it hadn’t had any love for 20 years,” says Serge.

“We had to gut it completely.”

Elena doesn’t cook from recipes, instead drawing from her experience and knowledge.

Bread is made with beer, crepes are cooked with vodka, and sauces are made with wine, whisky or brandy, along with fresh berries and vegetables – and no powders.

“It’s all about old-style European cooking. If you were to go to a top restaurant in France or Germany or England, they’d do the exact same things,” says Serge.

Photo: John Krüger

The couple has created an upstairs bar which houses more than 100 South Australian spirits and features two open fireplaces and a balcony, where patrons can enjoy one of more than 40 premium Cuban cigars Serge has curated.

“When people finish dinner, where are they going to go if they don’t want to go home?” says Serge.

“Our bar is a quiet spot to relax and have a chat over a drink and an open fire in winter.

“I love cigars and if I was going to have a bar, I wanted somewhere to be able to sit down and smoke a stogie.”

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