Comfort food with a side order of vodka at the capital's first Uzbek destination restaurant
Nobody does comfort food with a side order of vodka quite like the Uzbekistanis. But until Samarkand came along last month, the capital’s Uzbek dining scene was rather non-existent. Sitting at the gastronomic intersection between the Middle East and Eastern Europe, the country’s cuisine, a hearty mix of dumplings, pickles and delicately spiced stews, marks new culinary territory for Charlotte Street.
Named after Uzbekistan’s second largest city (which is also the birthplace of astronomy), the subterranean restaurant has been dressed in decadent fashion. The geometric blue tiled walls, hexagonal tables, marble-clad bar and hand-carved wooden columns hint at its Eastern origins.
The food is inspired by founder Sanjar Nabiev’s childhood. There’s butternut squash and liquorice soup, tashkent – poached fillet of veal with heritage radish and white cabbage – and smoked eel salad with grated horseradish. Keen to sample the most traditional dishes, our waiter Dimitri points us in the direction of manti, hand-made Uzbek dumplings stuffed with pumpkin, which are lighter and more succulent than expected. The yellowfin tuna shashlik (skewed meat flamed over the robata grill) is cooked to perfection – the meaty morsels are balanced with sweet yellow courgettes, a nutty wild rice and a moreish yoghurt and dill sauce.
Nobody does comfort food with a side order of vodka quite like the Uzbekistanis
We keep it traditional for the main course too, with plov, the national dish of Uzbekistan. It’s the sort of thing that you’d imagine every good Uzbek grandma would have a recipe for, until Dimitri tells us that custom decrees it is cooked by a man for four hours outside on a fire. A hearty casserole of unctuous beef short rib, hand-cut yellow carrots, onions, chickpeas, barberries and sticky rice, it is autumnal nourishment in a bowl. We eat it alongside achichuk, a fresh salad of heritage tomatoes, onions and herbs. “It’s traditional to sip vodka alongside your plov,” advises Dimitri. “I’ll bring you a little thimble.” The ‘thimble’ turns out to be a filled-to-the-brim cup (there’s no such thing as half measures here).
We finish with a delicious poached peach sprinkled with pistachio crumble. It doesn’t go quite as well with the vodka we’ve been nursing since the plov, but there are plenty more tipples where that came from. The bar stocks more than 40 varieties – from a rare Polish potato-based Vestal to Black Cow, the world’s first vodka made entirely from milk – so make sure you raise a glass. It’s tradition, after all.