Memories of a grand nation

Founder and chairman of the Admirable Crichton reminisces on his time spent organising events in Russia

The first time I flew to Moscow I remember someone saying, "When you go into the arrivals hall look up and think cake tins". I arrived, looked up and there they were, hundreds of brown circular tins attached to the ceiling - some retro soundproofing.

I imagined Russia was going to be all a bit "cake tins" - utilitarian,dull and shabby - how wrong I was. The Admirable Crichton had been asked to organise the launch of Russian Vogue at The National Museum in Red Square,an amazing building filled with Russian objects. I remember the Tsarevich's tiny, immaculately polished knee-length boots and his beautiful dressing case all lined in Imperial purple silk.

The plan was to have dinner in all the major rooms of the museum and then erect a marquee on Red Square, in which guests would dance.Sadly, the rouble crashed and it was decided to cancel - a huge disappointment.

Three years later we went to St Petersburg to organise a dinner at The Peterhof. If you haven't been to this ravishing and edgy city - go. I've been there during the White Nights when the sun never sets and I've walked through the city in minus 23Î with the buildings cocooned in crystal sparkling snow.Truly magical.The Tsars built on a scale one can hardly imagine: vast palaces with staircases carved in gilded white wood and marble domes covered in gold leaf. At The Peterhof there are incredible fountains of gilded shells and figures from which jets ofwater rise 100 feet.

We used the wonderful throne room for a dinner where 80 guests sat at one long table covered in woven amethyst silk and flowers brought from the Crimea.A concert pianist and opera singer provided entertainment and a delicious dinner was served after guests passed through rooms of incredible antiques and art.

In St Petersburg I was able to have a private tour of the Catherine Palace where the Amber Room, destroyed during the last war, has just been rebuilt. The walls were partly lined in scrunched gold leaf and covered with amber in panels of intricate designs. It looked like the caramel served with ice-cream and the sun's rays bounced off cushions of gold leaf, sending shafts of light round the room.

I always stay at the Astoria, near the Winter Palace and St Isaac's Cathedral. The hotel is comfortable, with great beds and linen, and in the Balalaika-filled restaurants I eat caviar, beef stroganoff and homemade ice-cream with kirsch-soaked berries, and of course ice-cold vodka - simple but divine.

The spaces for entertaining are endless and I love the Yusupov Palace, where Rasputin was murdered. The Yusupovs built a tiny theatre, possibly one of the world'smost ravishing; it's like the Teatro la Fenice inVenice,gold and scarlet ± the perfect setting for a private performance before a dinner in the state dining room.

During our last visit we also organised a lunch in Grand Duke Vladimir's Palace.Many great houses had an oak room - a faux-painted dining room where the plaster resembled heavily carved English oak - and in Vladimir's oak room we placed gossamer-thin white linen cloths on round tables, with fine glass and country flowers gathered from the Russian Steppes to create a rustic contrast to The Peterhof 's grandeur.

A country full of music, summer sunshine and some amazingly charming people - I now have a great love of the glories of Russia. Abigail Wills helps you to recreate the Tsarist spirit Entertainment The Volkovtsi Cossacks is a UK-based professional dance troupe that can supply Cossack dancers for cabaret and corporate entertainment. They can also provide Russian and Ukrainian musicians, Russianstyle circus acts and Cossack doormen. Prices start from £700 for a 20-minute cabaret act. Contactwww.cossackdancers.com Agency Vitali Music has a gypsy jazz band consisting of a violin, accordian, cello, double bass and piano, which plays lively, eastern European folk music. As the group tends to play concerts they can be difficult to book but if you are lucky enough to secure them it will cost from £2,500. Contactwww.vitalimusic.com Food Catering company Dish's director and food designer Fiona Stewart-Brown suggests guests are served chilled Stolichnaya vodka or Krug Champagne from an ice-bar on arrival. Her canapés would include fillet steak with potato rosti and horseradish cream, Blini with sour cream, Avruga and red caviar and Crostini with chicken liver parfait, caramelised onions and deep-fried rocket. Having had an amuse bouche, guests would be lead to the main dining area for a buffet of beef stroganoff, Kubleiako salmon and mushroom pie, tomato, cucumber and dill salsa and beetroot, spring onion and potato salad. A raspberry sponge cake would complete the meal. Contactwww.dishcatering.co.uk Venues Dish's Stewart-Brown recommends Kent House in Knightsbridge as it offers ambassadorial elegance and opulence. Groups might also consider Russian theme bars such as Pravda in Newcastle upon Tyne, or the Tsar's Bar at the Langham Hilton hotel near Oxford Circus. Eastern European restaurants such as Baltic in Blackfriars, or Nikita's in Fulham could also set the scene. Red Square Restaurant in Exeter is one of only a few eateries in the UK to serve authentic Russian cuisine. Groups can hire it as a private venue for up to 100 guests. The owner will also source traditional entertainment. Contactwww.redsquarerestaurant.co.uk Your own taste of Russia Cossack dancer's acrobatic display Tsar's Bar at the Langham Hilton


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