An Uzbek restaurant might not be your first choice on Charlotte Street, where you have a vast array of excellent international – and British – restaurants to choose from. But I was curious, no less because of the promise of craft vodka and a dish called Jizbiz (I know…).
I rarely write bad reviews, mainly because I don’t want to waste my time writing about places I would simply not recommend. The only negative one I wrote was about Restaurant Ours, because there was a hype for no reason, the prices were inflated and the service was appalling. The problem with Samarkand is that I genuinely quite liked the restaurant (and bar), I thought the interiors were appealing and – most importantly – the service was really good. So I feel for them a little, writing this review.
But there is one big problem with Samarkand, and that is, very unfortunately, the food. Arguably we enjoyed the 50% soft launch offer, which made for a very affordable and fun dinner. However, the prices of the food cannot be justified without it.
To start with we ordered the beef and lamb ‘Manti’, Uzbek dumplings. I’m always a bit of a fan of dumplings, but not of these. Soggy, falling apart and bland, even the sauce which accompanied it resembled a Dolmio tomato sauce. Maybe that’s the Uzbek way, but if it is, I wouldn’t put it on the menu.
Next came the Shashlik (grilled skewered meat). We ordered the Wagyu Beef with Truffle and a Buttermilk Lamb one. Bearing in mind that the beef shashlik (one skewer – albeit 100g) costs £24, you’d expect some seriously good meat. But it just didn’t do it for us (though the lamb was better than the beef). The biggest mystery of all was the truffle clearly resembled truffle shavings but tasted of, well, nothing. Nor did it smell of truffle. It just looked like it. When questioned if it was perhaps Uzbek truffle (if that exists) our very charming waiter said he’d check with the kitchen, and returned adamant it was Tuscan.
For the main course we decided to order the JizBiz, since a dish with a name like that surely can’t be ignored. This was a rack of lamb with a potato cake. It was fine, but not more than this – and just could have been so much better if they had properly grilled the lamb so the fat was crispy rather than soft.
We moved to the bar area (which I really liked) after dinner to try some of their vodka. They recommended two kinds: a sugar beet and a malt vodka – both completely new to us. We couldn’t dine at an Uzbek restaurant and not have a vodka. But then to our complete surprise we were served British vodka, two types of craft vodka made in London in fact. I just couldn’t understand why a restaurant from an area famed for its vodka would serve British vodka. Totally bizarre (I did like the Uzbek tea cups the vodka was served in).
Samarkand’s not all bad, as I said above. I really liked the staff, who were attentive, enthusiastic and clearly proud to be working at there. The head barman could talk for hours about the vodka we were drinking. Some of the cocktails we had afterwards were good too (though the Whisky Sour could do with more whiskey).
This is not a place for a summer’s day (it’s underground), and should be better in the winter, where the British vodka can warm you, though the truffle with still mystify. So in conclusion, I’d grab a pre or post-dinner cocktail here, but choose one of the plethora of other excellent restaurants on Charlotte Street (Roka, the Ninth, Barn Yard) or Bao around the corner for actual dinner. If Uzbek cuisine wants to make its mark in London, it’s going to have to improve dramatically at Samarkand.
33 Charlotte St,
London W1T 1RR
Photo credit: Samarkand