When you think of foreign and exotic cuisine, Uzbek is not the first thing that comes to mind. French, Italian, Spanish, Mexican, Nordic, Asian, even Caribbean – but Uzbek? No. So upon hearing of the opening of Samarkand, new Uzbek restaurant in Fitzrovia, Stylenest couldn’t even conjure up images of what cuisine to expect, or even where to locate the country on the map. Needless to say, we were intrigued to say the least, and we paid Samarkand a visit to see exactly what Uzbek cuisine had to offer.
Samarkand is named after Uzbekistan’s second largest city (which is also the birthplace of astronomy), and hopes to evoke the Silk Road: the trade routes that ran from Europe to the East until the Middle Ages. Looking at the map, Uzbekistan is a landlocked Islamic country, north of Afghanistan. In terms of cuisine, it sits at the proverbial gastronomic intersection between the Middle East and Eastern Europe; expect a hearty mix of soups, meats and dumplings.
Situated in the heart of Fitzrovia, Samarkand is set just back off Charlotte Street with quite a prominent entrance, and bouncers standing outside. We arrived and went down the steps into the basement restaurant, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the interiors; the walls were covered in vibrant blue hexagon tiles from floor to ceiling, and there was definitely an Eastern inspired vibe going on.
We got to the bottom of the stairs where there was a reception desk and a cloakroom, and after dumping our coats we were lead into the sultry and sophisticated dining area. The hexagon theme continued into the restaurant with hexagon shaped tables, and there was a fabulous open kitchen with vibrant blue glass panels and copper pans. To the side of the kitchen there was a large wine rack with a collection of wines on display, but the ceiling pendants were really the star of the show. We were seated at one of the hexagon tables, with a glass mezzanine wall behind us with a brass criss-cross pattern across it, and behind the glass was a stunning mezzanine marble bar area, and hand-carved wooden columns hinting at its Eastern origins. The space was arrestingly stylish for a basement restaurant, and every direction I looked offered some interiors inspiration.
A waiter immediately came over to take our drink order and offer the menus, and, after five minutes of staring at the menus, returned to describe the dishes in more detail and offer a few recommendations.
The menu is divided into small plates, starters, ‘manti’, ‘shashlik’, ‘plov’ and main courses, as well as sides, desserts, and an impressive drinks menu (including 40 different vodkas). ‘Plov’ is the national dish of Uzbekistan; a hearty casserole of beef short rib, yellow carrots, onions, chickpeas, barberries and sticky rice.
We ordered the hard smoked cheese and ‘somsa’ (hand-made puff pastry parcels filled with beef & lamb or pumpkin) as small plates, followed by the burrata and the spiced parsnip soup for starters, and finally the beef short rib for my main, with a side of ‘achichuk’ (a fresh side salad of tomatoes, onions and herbs). Once we ordered the food we also decided to order a bottle of Malbec to wash it down with.
When the small plates arrived it was immediately apparent that they are not small plates, but quite filling starters! My oak smoked cheese was a bit bland and stodgy, but my guest loved his beef and lamb pastry parcels – herby and well-spiced, although also quite stodgy and very filling for a ‘small plate’.
Next I tucked into my starter of creamy burrata with heritage tomato salad – strong and flavoursome but fairly simple – whilst my guest devoured his spiced parsnip and chestnut soup with parsnip crisps. The soup was absolutely finomenal, creamy and flavoursome, and one of the best soups either of us had ever tasted.
My main course was a gorgeous slow cooked beef short rib – smothered in a pomegranate glaze & served with a side of pickled red cabbage. The slow cooked meat was falling apart, the glaze was delicious and the slaw added a lovely bit of crunch and freshness to it all. The only disappointing part was that there was not a lot of meat on the bone, and rather a lot of bone and fat! The whole meal was maybe four mouthfuls. Luckily I had filled up from the two starters, otherwise I would have probably still been hungry.
We were given the dessert menu; a small selection of baklava, sorbet, poached pear or chocolate, but we decided to give the dessert a miss in favour of the wine we were still working our way through.
Overall, Samarkand has a great atmosphere, amazing service, and interesting food worth trying.