Samarkand is a true hidden gem, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it treasure just off Charlotte Street. I actually walked past it, but once located, a pair of heavy double doors opened to reveal a staircase leading down to an underground treasure trove of Uzbekistan wonders.
The décor is deep blues, beaten gold and soft browns, with beautifully carved pillars and tiles imported from Uzbekistan. The brightly coloured uniform of the hostess who took our coats was also an Uzbek import; founder Sanjar Nabiev keeps close ties to local suppliers in Uzbekistan.
My favourite dining companion Ellie and I were sat by a wall adorned with a map showing the route of the Silk Road. The fact that the city of Samarkand is one of the stops on the Silk Road is about the extent of my knowledge – courtesy of a quick pre-meal Google. I can’t pretend I knew much about Uzbek cuisine either, but Samarkand London was a great introduction, with its fusion of traditional Uzbek and contemporary western flavours.
To start, vegan Ellie went for the Baklajon – an Uzbek style aubergine caviar. Yes, it tasted as good as it sounds, a super smoky dish. I, being a meat-eater, was instructed by our excellent waiter to try the Manti: traditional Uzbek hand-made dumplings with beef and lamb, which were hearty and warm, and tasted truly homemade.
For my main, tempted as I was by the signature lamb dish (appetisingly named Jiz Biz), I opted for the Samarkand Plov, a traditional dish of lamb leg and beef short rib slow cooked with veg and rice. Usually this is served as a large dish to share between two, but they made a mini version for me. Ellie also got her share of the star treatment, with a specially concocted Vegan orzo pasta, accompanied with tomato salad. It was all divine, and washed down with a Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta – an excellent New Zealand Earl Grey IPA.
The Baklava cake for dessert was a revelation. Unlike the syrupy, flaky-pastry-style balkava I know and love, this was a sandy-textured round cake floating in a light custard. Definitely enough to satisfy any adventurous sweet tooth. Ellie’s vegan-friendly Sorbet selection flavours included cucumber and basil, lemon and chilli, and apple and cinnamon (her favourite).
We loved every second at Samarkand. The vibe was just right, the staff a delight and the place is beautiful; even a visit to the toilets was a tastefully decadent experience. I will definitely be returning.
Price – £75 (excluding service).
Service – 5/5
Ambience – 5/5
Bathroom – 5/5
For reservations and further information please visit: www.samarkand.london