Read this if all you really know about Kazakhstan and Central Asia can be summed up by the word “Borat”. I was never keen to explore the cuisine of this region until my other bib decided to go backpacking the region. I heard, through him via Lonely Planet, that the speciality of Kazakh cuisine was boiled sheep heads. And that the most esteemed guest would get to eat the eye balls?
That’s some custom…
When I went to this Central Asian restaurant-con-Irish-pub Cigansky Ray – this was a revamped restaurant, formerly called Dastarkhan, on the second floor of a local pub called Phibbers – down Liverpool Road, I bore that in mind. (Un)luckily, there was no sheep head or many of the dishes the menu promised to offer. Our lady waiter apologised for the lack of choices. Looking around, we were the only diners at the place and this shortage of dishes seemed a little less absurd. They’d probably feature the whole menu on their busy Saturday night where this place became alive with live music. Positive thinking, I could be as loud as I wanted. Nobody were there to glare at us!
The menu was a mixed bag of Russian and Central Asian dishes. My bib had visited the place years ago and said it used to be more Kazakh. Never mind Russian, Lituanian and Uzbeks, I gave it all a go. Started with a bowl of Borsch and Siliotka Pod Subai. The Borsch was very rich, unlike the aromatic version at Kyrgyz Kazakh House Restaurant, thanks to the superb beef stock well married with the sweet note of the beetroot. Vegetables were nicely cooked, too. Siliotka Pod Subai, translated as Fish Salad, was a very interesting dish. It wasn’t a salad per se but layers of many things. Look-wise, it appeared a slice of cake with grated cheese on top. Smell-wise, it was like beetroot, fish and egg. Taste-wise? This was the very intriguing part. This little gateau was made of beetroot, pickled herrings, beetroot infused mayo and grated boiled egg!! The last ingredient was a real genius. I was totally fooled. Varying degrees of creaminess, paired well with the sweetness and the mild pickled flavour from the beetroot and the fish respectively.
There was a massive time lapse before our main dishes arrived. Gulesas – my main I thoroughly enjoyed! – was a creamy pork stew dish served with rice and cucumber salad. Delectable flavour from the gravy. Quite onion-y sweet. I found it similar to Japanese cream stew. The pork cut into cubes was a few minutes too cooked but forgivable. My bib’s dish, Saslyk Baranina, is basically barbecued marinated lamb. I didn’t get to try but it looked rather appetising. As far as his comment went, the meat was well trimmed and tender. Not overpowering marinate.
There was a long gap and I decided to hop to get my waitress. Well, only to find her grazing on the food off the stove!!!!!! Sorry, melodrama aside, I realised that she was actually the house chef who served food also. Gosh, this must be hard. And minutes away I was picking on how slow the service was. Sorry, love! After some imaginary reconciliatory hugs, I asked for two portions of Chak Chak, which tasted home-made and fresh. A tweak on the recipe – say, adding some nuts – would make the dish brilliant.
The bill came to about £40. The food was hearty and would definitely remind you of home, providing you were from Central Asia. I enjoyed my evening and I would like to return perhaps on a busier night when my waitress-chef was cooking the whole menu and there were more than just two of us and the pub folk downstairs. Hope she’ll have somebody to help her out then! Before leaving, she was shouting to us “Большое спасибо” and we “very delicious”. Not sure if that was a conversation well understood?
My head rating says, “8 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “7 out of 10″.
2nd Flr Phibbers Pub
203 Holloway Road
Tel. 078 3193 7788