by Aimee Sics0
If you find yourself hungry and in the vicinity of Charlotte Street, you’ll be well-spoilt for choice. The popular Fitzrovia thoroughfare is a gastronomic melting pot — ROKA, Bubbledogs, Siam Central, Pescatori, L’Etoile and Pied à Terre —this isn’t London’s best street food, this is London’s best food street.
Part of this culinary postcode is Samarkand, an Uzbeki restaurant founded by Sanjar Nabiev back in August this year. Uzbeki cuisine might not be the food craving you hear your friends cry out for often, yet we think the hearty dishes combined with the comfortable décor of Samarkand could change this.
If you ever dined at Fina, you’ll be acquainted with the façade as Samarkand is the new resident, located just off the main street. The basement restaurant has been designed with immaculate stateliness — its clean cut, modern, and colourful mosaics brought in especially from Uzbekistan grace the walls. Chandeliers abound the ceiling, and emanate a soft, elegant light — ideal for romantic evenings, not so ideal to read menus. Regardless, it makes for a pleasant setting and is a respectful nod to the ancient city where astronomy was founded and Alexander the Great described as “beautiful and majestic”.
Should you arrive prior to hunger sets in, the mezzanine bar — set apart from the dining area — yields an impressive cocktail menu, as well as an extensive collection of vodka (think Iceland, UK, US, Poland, Russia, France and Sweden). Our suggestion? Save your vodka for afterwards —served in a teacup, it will cut straight through the richness of your meal and perhaps make room for pudding… or another shot.
Speaking of dishes, Samarkand provides a delectable voyage into the rich heritage of the Silk Road. Sitting at the crossroad between the Middle East and Eastern Europe, Uzbeki’s cuisine is a rich, wholesome blend of dumplings, pickles and subtly spiced stews, which (unfortunately) makes for a slightly confusing menu deliverance: there are small plates, starters, manti, shashlik, plov, mains and desserts.
And all of it’s good, however a handful deserve their own applause track: the homemade pickles are brilliantly crunchy; the salad of smoked eel, baby beets, soft-boiled quail eggs and fresh grated horseradish is simple, yet executed with such finesse and tasty tidiness; and the baklajon might be a fancy name for “smoked aubergine caviar”, but this ain’t just eggplant puree people. It’s smooth, delicate and delicious. If we were at home, this would involve a serious licking the plate clean action. We like. Shashlik is also a frontrunner — the succulent pieces of skewered meat are flame grilled over the robata and are satisfyingly sapid.
Yet get your bibs ready for the plov, a must-try dish. Aptly named, the classic Uzbeki dish of rice, barberries and slow cooked beef short rib and vegetables is a winner. The plov is the kind of dish you’d purposely dine here repeatedly for just so the restaurant never gets issued with a coroner’s report.
Another reason this is a go-to dish is the shot of vodka that comes with. As we mentioned, it’s the perfect way to sum up your main course, because lest we forget about dessert. Given the sophistication of the dishes here, you can’t run out of steam at the end of your main. Suggestions for serious sweet tooths would be the Chocolate texture – the name doesn’t give away much, but we can guarantee you’ll walk away feeling delightfully light-headed, not from the vodka.
Overall Samarkand makes for a fancy, satisfying dining experience. It might be lacking a tad of atmosphere (music, people!), but the nourishing cuisine, impressive interior and sweet service still make it a worthy enthusiastic revisit for us. Plus, we can justify it as being educational, right? A journey into the culinary culture of the Silk Road? Or just pure gluttony if we’re honest. Delish.
Samarkand, 33 Charlotte St, London W1T 1RR
Phone: 020 3871 4969