I have a simply fantastic new spot for you for pre-Christmas drinks or dinner, or even to book ahead so you have something to look forward to in the midst of the January blues: Samarkand in Fitzrovia. This hidden, basement bar and Uzbek (!) restaurant is just around the corner from Goodge Street Station, and has an elegant (but still really cool and comfortable) feel, with fantastic service, great food (it manages to be both new and familiar, and everything we ate was mouthwatering), and imaginative cocktails.
I was early for my dinner date for the evening, so I settled in at the bar. While the drinks are a little pricy (but not too out there, as they are in some other local bars), the list is really imaginative, so I went to the bar staff for guidence. I can't remember what it was called, but I ended up with their signature champagne cocktail from their pre-dinner list, which was a delicious and rather more-ish combination of a scoop of frozen quince sherbet, topped off with their house pink champagne and garnished with a few candied, pickled sour cherry pieces (oh, and served in a vintage coupe with a little silver spoon for the sherbet!)
After Ed found me at the bar we headed down to our table to peruse the menu. I was impressed with their bread, served with a delicious herbed and spiced butter (cumin I think?) Usually I'm not a butter person, but it looked so tempting, and it was really, really delicious. I was the only one drinking, so I had a couple of glasses a delicious, oaky Italian wine. They have a very good, not too big, not to small wine list, and an extensive list of world vodkas from Poland to Iceland if you fancy that traditional cup with your meal.
I went for the vegetarian starter: so often the cop out option, but at Samarkand it is honestly the best option. My Mushroom Tarte was both pretty, elegant, and utterly faultless on flavour. Just look how pretty it is! Ed went down the traditional, meaty route with a Shashlik: a skewer of grilled meat. Samarkand offers calves liver (which I was sorely tempted by), buttermilk marinated lamb, yellow fin tuna, and wagu beef with tuscan truffle. Ed had the bavette, which was rich, tender, was served with a garnish of those excellent baby mushrooms garnishing my tart, and with a simply to die for dipping sauce. Just look at that meat!
Speaking of meat, I think I hit the jackpot with my main. Just look at that slow cooked short rib, finished with the most fantastic pomegranate glaze. I'm not usually the big hunk of meat type of person unless it is a steak, but this was the perfect portion size, and the side is not just for looks. The pickled red cabbage was pitch perfect, and along with its garnish of spring onions, and a scattering of pomegranate seeds, served as the best thing to cut through all of that rich meat. If you even vaguely like short rib, you need to order this.
While I had the usual guy, hunk of meat stereotype, Ed went for the beautifully light fish: seared wild sea bass served with broad beans, crayfish, and the most gloriously light parmesan foam. We're both people who are fussy about how our fish is cooked (when you go to boarding school with someone you've probably eaten just as many meals with your closest school friends as you have done your actual family!), and we were both overly impressed with his dish. Great flavours, perfect fish, and a nice crispy skin. And the plate is so pretty!
So, we were not going to order a side, but we were both really, really pleased that our server suggested that we did. He pushed us towards the truffle potatoes, which as big truffle fans we were both down with. But those potatoes! Thin, buttery slices of potato (not too mushy and soft, but still perfectly cooked), enriched with the perfect amount of black truffle, and topped of with shavings of yet more truffle (and it's only £4!)
The dessert menu at Samarkand is short, sweet and spectacular. I had the chilli and thyme poached pear, beautifully decorated with edible flowers, and served with a scoop of absolutely fantastic barberry ice cream (rich, creamy and refreshing, with tangy bursts from the barberry) on a biscuity, very nutty pistachio crumble. If you love pistachios like I do, this is a real treat of a dessert. On the other hand, if you're a chocoholic, you'll want to order Ed's dessert, the chocolate texture: a scoop of the riches chocolate ice cream I've ever tasted, chocolate brownie pieces, chocolate biscuit rubble, fresh and freeze dried raspberries. The perfect way to round off a meal.
We were both really, really impressed by Samarkand. The food is not cheap, but for the quality and quantity of what you get, it is priced quite reasonably, both by London standards, and up to the mark of some of the higher end eateries we both enjoy in Canterbury. It was quite quiet when we visited; sometimes when I have been invited to review a restaurant (thanks for having us, guys!) I can understand why it is quite empty. Sometimes the service is slow, the feel is not quite right, or the food is just not that great. However, everything at Samarkand is pitch perfect, and as it only opened a few months ago, I feel it is my duty to let you know that you must book a table to help support this place, as it is a real gem; fantastic food from a relatively new cuisine in the city, and for London, that is saying something!