I was astounded walking down Holloway Road at about 7pm and seeing advertisements of value meals starting at £2. Was I really in London? Was this really part of London? The road, as well as the shops on both sides, appeared positively foreign. Tbilisi, my destination tonight, did not make me feel any less alienated. This was a restaurant in a shophouse, one of many on Holloway Road, obscured by its frosted entrance. There was only a red light sign indicative that this place did exist.
As the name suggested, the restaurant was one of the very few Georgians in the Big Smoke. The menu seemed authentic – meaning a lot of foreign terms for food and dishes I didn’t quite know – but it was also descriptive. I settled for a starter for two called Kolheti, which consisted of cheese bread, beetroot puree and aubergine with walnuts and herbs. The cheese bread was a cross between a pita bread and a focaccia, with soft cheese in the middle. Gorgeous. The sweet, herbed beetroot proved a worthy company to the lightly salted bread, while the soft aubergines were mellow but with occasional bursts of fresh pomegranate. The overall flavours were well rounded, unlike many other Russian or Central Asian treats I had come across.
The main courses were also stellar. My Khinkali – gargantuan steamed pork and beef dumplings – was meaty and perfectly seasoned. The dish was quite similar to a Chinese Siu Long Bao but larger and with less soupy content within. Also, there was more bite to the casing of Khinkali than a Siu Long Bao thanks to its thickness. My other bib went for Chanakhi, which was a dish of spicy lamb and aubergine baked with potato, onions and tomatoes. The sweet and mild acidity of the tomatoes came in nicely making the stew quite rich but not aggressively heavy. The lamb chunks were tender and scented.
The puddings were interesting. I asked for Pelamushi, a traditional Georgian dish made from grape juice, sugar and corn flour. It was quite like a cake with a sticky texture. Flavour-wise, there was a nice juxtaposition between acidity and sweetness from the grape juice. The one at Tbilisi was served with a dollop of chocolate sauce and a sprinkle of crushed walnuts on top for texture contrast. Quite heavy, I must say. The Baked Green Apple with Honey, Walnuts and Yoghurt Filling my other bib ordered tasted a bit less foreign. Mushy texture with the intense sweetness and fresh apple flavour combined. It was, say, interesting..
The meal at Tbilisi brought me almost as close to Georgia as I could from London. The dishes were different but very well cooked and not altogether bizarre. All you’d ask for in a meal was there – depth, dimension, texture, and so on. Let’s admit, Georgian food would not become big soon enough that you could brag about your meal to others. That said, I’d highly recommend Tbilisi – and Cigansky Ray around the corner – for those daring to venture beyond their own gastronomic comfort.
And, o!, did I forget to mention the Georgian wine?
It was one of the finest in the world. We shared this bottle of Pirosmani. The fruitiest red I’d drunk and tasting very low alcohol content. Loved it!
My head rating says, “8 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “8 out of 10″.
91 Holloway Road
Tel. 020 7607 2536