Where: 33 Charlotte Street (although the entrance is actually on Rathbone Place), W1T 3RR
When: Thursday, 1.15pm
Busy? Oddly quiet, perhaps down to the presence of a Made in Chelsea film crew…
Can I book? Yes
We’ve both been meaning to go to Samarkand ever since it opened. We actually had a table booked at the soft launch, but we (sob) were both too broke even to afford that, so had to wait a bit. My mum called me up to ask for a recommendation, because she wanted to take her sister out for a birthday lunch, and invited me and my cousin along. I’d been meaning to come here for so long that it seemed like the obvious place to choose.
To start with, I must say that this place is chic af. Decorated in a tealy-midnight blue with copper touches, the underground restaurant feels airy and light, despite having no windows. The open kitchen is painted a brilliant turquoise, and everything is crisp hexagonal tiles and warm wood, inlaid with cool marble. Very tasteful. This might explain the presence of a film crew! We had to slightly climb over camera cables and so on to get to our table, and were told that they would be filming a scene from Made in Chelsea, but that it shouldn’t really affect our lunch – which it didn’t.
That being noted we ordered some cocktails. What’s a celebration lunch without cocktails, right? My mum and her sister went for the Samarkand Mule, a lavish concoction, gorgeously draped with saffron strands and presented in an incredibly cool copper tumbler with A COPPER STRAW. If that’s not a #goalsy setup, I don’t know what is. I went for the aptly named Szechuan Gimlet. I love a gimlet, and this was a deliciously crisp take on a calssic. Rich, subtly sweet and deeply spicy, with hints of cardamom and a smooth gin base, it was saved from seriousness by the tiny cone of popping candy attached to the rim of the glass with a tiny wooden peg. I go nuts for a tiny wooden peg. It speaks to the part of me that loves etsy and wants to do incredibly twee paintings of birds all the time, despite being an egregiously terrible painter. Topped off with a blackberry, this is a seriously good cocktail. Highly recommended. With our cocktails we had some lovely bread, which is served with dill and cumin butter. This is a beautiful combination – chopped dill and toasted cumin seeds worked into the butter, which is so delicious on their closely textured, beautifully chewy bread. A really simple idea, but a thoughtful touch, and makes a change from olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
The next thing I want to mention is that the set lunch menu here is ludicrously good value. Two courses for £15, or three for £18. I ate some of the best food I’ve had in months, left with more than a bellyful, and for £18! Amazingly good value. And the food! This was so worth waiting for. We started with a selection of the starters to share – the pumpkin ‘manti’ – little Uzbeki dumplings filled with a gently spiced and warming pumpkin mixture, topped with a little dill and yoghurt. Beautiful, golden brown ‘somsa’ – pastries stuffed with pumpkin and topped with black sesame – were served with a spicy but aromatic and floral salsa. My smoked aubergine caviar was the best of it’s type I’ve ever tasted – so rich and deeply smoky, with a pungent whack of garlic – and packed a real punch.
It is worth saying that everything here is incredibly well presented, with a delicate and elegant touch. Edible flowers and pomegranate seeds add a bit of colour and texture and make everything feel just a touch more luxurious. And three courses – £18!
For our mains we had two of the lamb shashlik – wonderfully soft and marinated, perfectly cooked, smoky from being cooked over fire – and two stuffed squashes. This is simple food, done really well. The tamarind sauce the lamb kebabs were served with was a revelation. My stuffed squash was everything you could want it to be. Refreshingly vegan – it’s always nice to be able to just order something, without having to make any substitutions – it was a hearty mix of peppers, mushrooms and onions with wild rice. Simple and unfussy, but really well seasoned and greatly enjoyed.
Don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it, but I REALLY love pickles. And can rarely resist the opportunity to try them, if they’re on the menu. These house pickles are unreal. An actual bowlful! Have you ever had the house pickles at Wagamama? You get this tiny little dish of about three pickles. Dreadful. These are gorgeous though, and really unusual. I’ve never had pickled tomatoes before, but I like them. Tiny pickled squashes are both adorable and delicious, and a couple of pickled chillies bring some heat to the party.
We got the sense that we were being slightly hurried due to the filming that was about to take place behind us, which potentially might not have been improved by our slightly raucous cocktail and wine-fuelled conversation. We were keen to stay for pudding (THREE COURSES! £18! You’d be mad not to) so our lovely server politely asked us if we would mind moving to the bar to eat our puddings, and we readily obliged. I decided to become a slightly more ‘relaxed’ vegan when I saw the pudding menu, and we ended up getting three of the ‘’chocolate texture’ (pictured, omfg) and I had a baklava cake. I love normal baklava but this was something else – a heady mix of pastry and an incredibly dense, spiced sort of brownie, soaked in syrup and served on a bed of ground almonds, with pistachios and barberries. The chocolate! E gad. A gloriously rich parfait, a malty soil, and dense and fudgy brownie, and a milky smooth ice cream, set off by a couple of raspberries. Heaven.
This is a really exciting addition to the incredibly rich gastronomic geography of London’s Fitzrovia. Honey & Co’s latest venture, Honey & Smoke, is next on my list – I also love their little food shop, where you can get an AMAZING aubergine salad for about £4 – but for now it’s safe to say – I will be back. £18! Three courses! A VERY happy customer.