I don’t think I’ve ever woken up and said “Oooh, I’m craving for some Uzbek cuisine today.” Have you? Probably not, as Uzbek cuisine is something most of us are unfamiliar with. So when I got invited to try some, I was very curious.
Restaurant and Bar
Named after Uzbekistan’s second largest city, Samarkand takes inspiration from founder Sanjar Nabiev’s favourite dishes evocative of the Silk Road (the ancient trade route between China and the Mediterranean). Tucked in a corner in Fitzrovia (former site of Fino and next to Roka) unassuming doors open to the restaurant.
Immediately, I was impressed. The place smelt of floral and musky notes and there was a calming presence about the place. We were led downstairs to the restaurant and boy, did the view take my breath away.
The restaurant is utterly beautiful and spacious. There’s apparent Eastern influence on the decor but also a contemporary Western vibe. The open kitchen sets stage for counter seating and there are booths for more intimate dining. I particularly loved the lighting and the mural of Central Asia.
The bar boasts of a wide array of cocktails, wine and spirits with a nod to vodka (over 40 types). There’s a pretty cabinet of liquor which reminds me of my father’s collection. With impressive labels and infusions, I am suddenly thrown back to my parents’ home as a five-year-old, being told to never ever touch dad’s potions. Oh how times have changed.
We were led back to the restaurant for a manti masterclass.
We were greeted by Head Chef Rob Panek. Chef Rob has quite an impressive list of London restaurants under his wing including Pont de la Tour, Bob Bob Ricard, The Don, and Les 110 de Taillevant.
I was rather confused to see a chopping board and a knife. A while later, bowls of ingredients started appearing. Perhaps I should’ve read the brief properly because I thought “manti” was some sort of cocktail. Oops, my bad.
Just so you know, I don’t cook that often and when I do, I rarely need to chop stuff. *GULP*
Because when I do, I either set things on fire or end up raiding the row of plasters in the pharmacy. *GULP*
Long story short, we were there to make filling for our manti, which are traditional Uzbek dumplings. We chopped a good amount of beef and lamb and fat and onions and peppered them with cumin and seasoning. We were then instructed to create our dumplings, filing them up in thin pastry and tucking corners etc.
Mine are not the best looking – even Chef Rob chuckled when looking at them – but I think I did make one decent piece. Our beautiful creations were taken away for cooking and we were led to our table for our meal proper.
They make their own butter and bread at Samarkand and it’s beautifully stamped.
Baklajon (£6.5) is an Uzbek-style aubergine caviar. The subtly smoked aubergine takes vibrant punches from pomegranate seeds. It was rather light on the palate and the belly. I liked this dish.
Next up were the somsas (£6). I am quite partial to savoury puff pastry parcels. Samarkand offers their somsas in beef/lamb or pumpkin for vegetarians. We tasted the latter. I thought the filling was a little thin on flavour.
And then our manti arrived. This is the part where I pray nobody tucks into mine with all the chopped nails I’ve mixed into the filling.
Personally, the dumplings didn’t taste any different to some that I’ve tried in London. I would like to try how Samarkand makes theirs, but also perhaps try authentic ones in Uzbekistan.
And then we were served plov (£32 for 2), the national dish of Uzbekistan. This dish is traditionally served with lamb and vodka on the side to cut through the fat. Samarkand’s offering was served with meat from slow cooked beef shortrib with carrots, onions, chickpeas, barberries and rice. Though the beef was absolutely melt-in-your-mouth, I thought it could have done with a bit more seasoning. It was rather fatty and each bite called for a sip of vodka. I almost fell off my chair when the servers told us this was a “tame” version as traditional plov is made with überfatty meat.
Say goodbye to your diet.
Sides include achichuk (£4) made of tomatoes and herbs, and some herby leafy salad. Quite the needed health kick to break up that oil and fat.
First dessert was the baklava cake (£7.5). Now baklava isn’t particularly my favourite sweet thing to eat but Samarkand’s cake version wasn’t overly so. Served with some vanilla ice cream, I thought this was quite good.
The chilli & thyme poached pear (£7.5) dessert was such a looker. Served with pistachio crumble and barberry ice cream, I wish the fruit itself had a bit more flavour.
Overall, I think Samarkand is an interesting place.
Aesthetically pleasant, it’s a decent enough restaurant you could take someone out to explore a new cuisine. Service is as warm as a nice Summer day and I couldn’t praise the front of house enough for being so chic and friendly. The bar has a fantastic list and you’re sure to have good vodka here.
I’m always up for trying new cuisines and it’s nice that Samarkand has re-introduced Uzbek cuisine to the city. I don’t think its food matches the greatness of its interiors but I do think it has a potential to stand out. This is because it’s the only Uzbek restaurant around. With a little refinement of the dishes, I think it can possibly go there.
33 Charlotte St, Fitzrovia, London W1T
Our meal was complimentary but average spend pp is £40
Have you tried Uzbek food before? What do you think?