When you think you have tried every cuisine possible in London, up pops an Uzbek restaurant in the form of Samarkand. Uzbek food is actually a fascinating cuisine to explore, thanks in no part to their major role during the Silk Road period as a major conduit between the East and the West with a whole plethora of spices and cultural influences passing through their towns and cities.
The first thing to note is the entrance to Samarkand isn’t actually on Charlotte Street but helpfully on their website, they have noted that the entrance is opposite the Rathbone hotel.
The mysterious entrance might have taken inspiration from Hakkasan at Hanway Place. And without a doubt, once you reach the dining room, you will be pleasantly surprised how picturesque the surroundings are. The blue glazed tiles, I just wanted to take down and install in my own kitchen and dining room. The chandelier gives the feeling of a multitude of stars in the skies and the smartly assembled open kitchen is visible but at a far away enough distance to not be a noise nuisance.
A great way to try their cuisine is their speedy, well-priced lunch set menu, which starts from 2 courses at £15.
Manti – traditional Uzbek dumplings is the first thing that jumped out of the menu. Apart from Chinese dumplings, I’ve always thought other dumplings have far too thick an outer wrapping. The outer skin is thin and delicate here, with the beef and lamb finely minced and giving the dish extra flavour and substance.
Somsa with pumpkin was elegantly made and a clear sign that they’ve hired an experienced pastry chef as the hand-made pastry was fresh and crispy. Although, my vegetarian guest did wonder if pumpkin is a national dish of Uzbekistan as it made a frequent appearance on their menu.
Baklajon was elegantly presented and the aubergine caviar had a rich smokiness which gave what would have been a simple vegetarian dish added complexity.There are plenty of more substantial dishes to try too like their national dish the plov which is a beef and lamb rice dish that has been slow-cooked for 4 hours to ensure the flavours from the meat are soaked into the rice. Steamed cod was expertly cooked just to the right degree and made much more filling with a lentil and mushroom stew.
The owners readily admit that this is modern Uzbek fusion cuisine rather than old-fashioned traditional Uzbek cooking. As we arrived for an early brunch, we did miss out on one of their highlights which are their extensive vodka selection. No doubt we will be back soon to sample their selection at their beautifully designed bar space.