Samarkand: the name itself evokes feelings of the faraway and the exotic. When we heard about a new restaurant featuring food from Uzbekistan in the very central London location of Fitzrovia, it sparked our interest straight away.
Upon entering via a blue tiled corridor and staircase, we were immediately blown away by the lavish scale of this subterranean restaurant. The atmosphere is exciting and buzzing, and glamorously dressed people all around seem to be having a good time.
The interiors are spacious and opulent – blue mosaic tiles, copper cage lighting, columns encased within wood carved panels, lush upholstery and curtains, and celestial signage depicting symbols from astronomy.
Wall maps of the Uzbek region and the Spice Route further intrigued us about the food we were about to explore.
We started the evening with a special gin martini for me. This was a woody and robust concoction made of Monkey 47 gin, Elderflower and homemade Vermouth and arrived proudly in an attractive copper martini glass.
Husband ordered the Khiva Spritz, which mixes Campari infused with genmaicha tea, homemade purple sparkling vermouth and Portobello road gin.
Keen to try a bit of everything, we ordered the Somsa (£4) from the small plates section. These were small bites of handmade puff pastry parcels filled with delicious and moist minced meat (beef and lamb). The pastry was thin, light and flaky and the filling was fatty and flavourful. This was utterly satisfying and could be a great cold weather food, thoroughly enjoyable.
We also ordered a Manti (£8 for 3) – traditional Uzbek handmade dumplings. These comfort dumplings came steamed, accompanied by a spicy, savoury tomato relish. Inside each tender, pillowy dumpling case was a dense, herby meat filling (also beef and lamb). The relish had a bit of a kick to it that uplifted the mild dumplings with a spicy touch. Everything smelled and tasted delicious!
On the day we visited, sadly they had run out of Jiz Biz (Samarkand’s most popular dish of pan fried rack of lamb served with potato cake and fresh herb salad). So the manager suggested we try the Shashlik (£17) – skewered meat slow-cooked over a robata grill. We ordered the buttermilk marinated lamb version. The lamb was very juicy and tender from the marinade, with luscious and smoky flavours coming from the grill. I am a big fan of the kebab; this is one of my favorite ways to eat meat – on a stick! The accompanying red onions added colour, texture and pungent flavours to the soft meat. It was an accomplished dish, however, at £17 for one skewer, it was probably not the best value for money.
For our mains we went for the Samarkand Plov – the national dish of Uzbekistan. This is the point where the whole Samarkand dining experience reached its zenith. Through this dish, Samarkand’s kitchen truly introduced us to the brilliant layers of Uzbek cuisine.
The Plov comprises of beef short rib slowly cooked with vegetables, chickpeas, berries and fragrant rice, garnished with pomegranate, spring onion and eggs.
This decadent but comforting dish was an exquisite, multi-flavour sesnsation and reminded me of the Middle Eastern Pilaf and the Indian Biryani. Savouring this was truly the emotional highlight of my evening. It also came at a very reasonable price of £28 (for two to share). I would highly recommend ordering this outstanding dish from the menu.
As one of our sides, we tried some Truffle Potatoes (£4). The dish was indulgent and luxurious, and the intense & earthy flavours of the truffle shavings elevated this humble potato dish to a divine level. This is a serious plate of food, not just a side dish, which holds its own against the brilliant mains!
The Achichuk (£4) was a stunning array of fresh, juicy, colourful sweet tomatoes. It was a delectable, palate cleansing salad with tomatoes that are freshly sourced rather than the freezer variety. The onions and herbs added another level of flavours and textures, making it a luscious and savoury side dish.
A point about the service: faultless. Throughout the evening, the staff were super enthusiastic, friendly, attentive and switched on. We were visiting during a soft launch, and based on previous experiences, soft launches can be quite chaotic. However, at no point during our evening at Samarkand did it feel that way. Everything was professionally managed and smoothly run.
Our splendid evening at Samarkand was a culinary journey into the rustic and rugged landscape of Uzbekistan. The chefs behind the Samarkand kitchen are doing a commendable job introducing us to a lesser known but nevertheless delicious cuisine and stirring up emotions through food.
I would highly recommend paying a visit – it is a real gem of a place!
More details can be found on their website:
N.B. All opinions and views expressed in this blog are my own. The photographs used have been taken by me and my partner (credited wherever applicable). I review anonymously and pay for my meals.