Wednesday, 6 July 2011
Restaurant Review: Samarqand
Have you ever tried Uzbek food? Up until very recently, I can't say I ever had - or particularly had ever realised that I wanted to.
Finding myself standing outside restaurant Samarqand, though, I have to say that I was intrigued. Located near London's Bond Street station, it's an inconspicuous little place tucked away amidst the standard Italian chains, Indian restaurants and English pubs - and a welcome change.
With the menu positioned on a stand outside two large black double doors at street level, those deciding that the food takes their fancy then venture down a dark wooden staircase into the basement restaurant below. It's all rather mysterious and atmospheric.
Soft lighting, cushions, intricate patterns and wooden decorations all set a very calming scene, with impeccable and friendly service; but, of course, we were here for the food, the most important thing about any restaurant. And, luckily enough for Samarqand, their food is delicious.
Ordering a round of starters, we tried a variety of dishes, such as the Choochwara, aromatic grilled meat dumplings with soya dressing and mixed leaves, and the Funchoza, a spicy rice noodle dish with beef and carrots that delivered quite a kick.
Moving onto mains, we deliberated over the menu for quite a while - so much looked great, and the starters had really whetted our appetite. Despite very nearly going for the Manty - steamed lamb dumplings with Asian herbs and yoghurt dressing - and being incredibly tempted by the Alanga, fried minced meat laid on handmade pasta sheets served with yoghurt, the most traditional dish was the one that eventually caught my eye.
I have to admit that it was the name I saw at the top of the menu which made me laughingly choose it at first. Plov. I'd never heard of a plov, but the friendly waiter told me it was the most famous, most typical - and, best of all, most delicious - dish on the menu.Well, with that recommendation, how could I resist?
Half an hour and a glass of rather nice wine later, I was presented with a huge plate full of perfectly cooked rice, chunky lamb pieces, spiced onions, carrots and chillis and a cool refreshing tomato side salad. Beautifully presented on a gorgeous blue china dish - a rather novel step away from the usual plain white restaurant dining plate - it was a perfectly size portion and really did taste great.
Unusual in its flavour combinations, if there had to be a criticism of the dish it would have to be that it could have done with a sauce or something similar - it was a little dry, but perhaps that's just how the cuisine is (my experience of Uzbek food is, after all, really very limited). That, and perhaps also the fact that I mistakenly chewed and swallowed a whole chilli, which ruined my taste buds for the remainder of the dish (but I acknowledge that as my own stupid fault!)
Bond Street is notorious for being a bit pricy; and the fact that I was dining out with a selection of lawyers and bankers didn't exactly help keep the cost down to my media industry salary budget. However, sometimes paying a little more than you usually would is justified when it's a really unusual dining experience you're not bound to experience again too soon - and this is the case with Samarqand. Starters came in between £9 and £15 each, with mains averaging around the £14 mark, without sides.
Would I make Uzbek cuisine a regular choice of mine? I can't say I liked it quite that much, although it was really good, and definitely worth a try. And besides, it's always good to try something different; after all, when's the last time you tried Uzbek, Russian or Mongolian cuisine?
You can visit Samarqand's website - and find out more information including location and booking availability - here.