You take a bus to Camberwell Road, to this little “boutique” hotel Pasha, and walk down this red-carpetted, dimly lit, narrow corridor. Keep walking and walking, past a Turskish bath, a steam room and sauna, a cosmetic laser surgery room – I am not kidding – a pool table and lots of photos of pretty Mongolian models framed on the walls. Then, you reach the dead end, no? Actually, there is a door, modest and unassuming, at the end of that corridor, with signs that say…
And that is it, the anti-climactic entrance to this Kyrgyz Kazakh House Restaurant. To me, this was, probably, the most random entrance I’d ever come across in the UK.
Opening that door was, surprisingly, more of an experience. My Other Bib had visited the place before and insisted I did the honour – of door-opening. He wanted to see the look on my face, really. And, ah! Bright light hit me in the face. The restaurant itself was a room – maybe two rooms joined together – but there was a sort of warmth to the place: nomade-style, semi-floor seating on one side of the restaurant and tables and chairs – nothing fancy – on the other. Between those two sides was a pond and a small wooden bridge with fish. Live ones ….
No comment on that. I took my seat.
The menu was intriguing as it was a conflation of many nationalities ranging from regular Turkish dishes, more marginal cuisine from Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyztan. I was there to samble Central Asian food; accordingly we opted for the ones with Russian imprints.
The bread came with a Houmous dip. Not the smoothest one I’d eaten but quite flavoursome. The bread, served cold, was sponge-like and did not have much flavour in itself.
First up were Russian Salad and Pickled Herrings. It couldn’t get any more traditional, could it? The Russian Salad, which was a bowl of many things – chopped eggs, diced potatoes, carrots, pickled gerkins – mixed with mayonaise, was decent enough. The flavours of the root veggies, pickles and eggs came through nicely. It wasn’t special, of course, but decent. The Pickled Herrings dish was a bit more special. Served with boiled potato slices and pickles, the slices of herrings were meaty and of good quality. There was not much sourness going on there, considering it was a pickled dish. We deliberated and thought the one at Goodman tasted better. Still, we mopped all the bits and pieces on the plate down very quickly. We also ordered grilled Halloumi cheese, which was good. Not very Russiian, were we?
Then we had this intermittent bowl of Borsch, a Russian beetroot soup with sour cream. The version at Kyrgyz Kazakh was actually very nice. Aromatic with celery, beetroot, carrot, potatoes, lettuce and beef stewed together with a touch of rosemary and dill. The bowl itself was massive and the amount of ingredients that had gone into it could actually make this a meal in itself.
As far the main – perhaps I should mention that one main costs about £7-8 and they are massive! – we got Besh Barmak and Oromo. The Besh Barmak was, according to the menu, traditional hand made dough topped with beef and onions cooked in broth. That “dough” thing was half way between flat pasta – tagliatelle came to my mind here but less eggy – and Chinese noodle. It was well made and well cooked – soft but retaining some bite – and slithered down my throat very nicely. The topping of beef and onion cooked in broth was direct. The beef flaked nicely on the tongue. However, the dish fell into a trap of being two dimensional with flavours being dominated by the natural sweetness of the onions. I didn’t know what the chef could do to improve the dish, though, and in the end, it was down to the gastronomic tradition of nomadic cooking – the convenience-came-first sort of thing – that would never be as rich and as advanced as, say, Italian or French or Thai or Indian or Chinese or, well, many others. The other main Oromo was less thrilling. It was a roll – made from the same pasta-like dough – of minced meat steamed and served with sour cream and spicy chilli relish. The roll itself was rather bland. I could taste meat, salt and pasta. Not bad, but not to my liking. Personally, I much prefered the Besh Barmak because it had more of contrasting texture going on. The Oromo, look-wise and taste-wise, was more like a snack dish and not very far off from being a rustic Cheng Fun dish.
Last but not least, we had the dessert, the only Kazakh sweet on the menu, called Chak Chak. How could I describe it? Say, fried noodle-like dough, raisin and nuts glued together by a dullop of honey and ground cinnamon and then cut into chunks. It was sweet, crunchy and fragrant. They did achieve the right balance for this one, I must say. The Chak Chak I came across in previous occasions – many were Chinese or Korean variations – were just disgustingly honeyed or soggy.
Overall, this was one decent meal and quite a gastro-experience. Price-wise, it was brilliant and I was told if we came at the weekends for dinner, there’d be live musicians and belly dancers. Looking back to the meal, the Kyrgyz Kazakh food was quite a merging of two cooking traditions: Russian and Chinese, but lacking depth and the wow factor. That said, I quite enjoyed my experience and might try to dig out more of these places wherever, though I didn’t think I’d come across another one with a pond – with fish and a turtle – in the middle of the dining room!!
My head rating says, “7 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “7 out of 10″.
KYRGYZ KAZAKH HOUSE RESTAURANT
158 Camberwell Road
Tel. 020 7277 2228