On a cold autumnal evening I was invited to the new Uzbeki restaurant Samarkand in Fitzrovia for a Silk Road Masterclass in vodka and cocktail tasting. Mixology meets Marco Polo. Camel caravans on the windswept plains. And a bunch of bloggers on a mission. How could I ever refuse?
The restaurant celebrates a part of the world where a melange of cultures produce an explosion of tantalising flavours from the Silk Road. Named after the country’s second largest city you will recognise many of the chinese and mediterranean influences on the menu.
The mezzanine bar is also home to a superb selection of 40 crafted vodkas, which is where my evening began. Before the masterclass started I took a closer inspection of the cabinet of ‘vodka dreams’ as that’s exactly what it represented to me. Full of flavoured vodkas from lavender, orange, cinnamon, coffee beans, rosehip and honeycomb to name a few.
They are all carefully created in-house by Fabio and his team with the use of natural ingredients. It’s a labour of love and you can definitely taste it in the many flavours on offer.
Our first drink was an Akkum Desert described as a bitter yet bubbly concoction with D1 vodka, aperol, campari bitter, americana cocchi and pu-her tea, balanced with tuaca liqueur and prosecco. A mouthful of ingredients, some of which to be honest I’d never heard of. Served in a dainty glass you could only take sips (to maintain the classy lady look of course). It was a good job as it’s all I could manage given the high potency levels.
However, I was soon swept up into the world of vodka with Fabio enthusiastically talking about the origins and different varieties available and the Akkum Desert was no more.
We were lucky to taste an array of vodkas from around the globe, one of them being the rarest Polish potato-based Vestal, it was by far the best for me with a very clean and crisp taste. Closely followed by Black Cow distilled in Dorset and made entirely from milk. Yes you heard correct, milk! And as expected with any milk product it did have a creamy, smooth taste. All I could think of whilst sipping away was how great a lovely truckle of cheddar would taste alongside it.
It was a timely thought as a selection of food arrived from the restaurant. The first being a Plov, the national dish of Uzbekistan. Made of beef short rib slowly cooked together with carrots, onions, chickpeas, barberries and rice. By the oohs and ahhs emitting from the carnivorous bloggers in attendance I took it as a big thumbs up for the dish.
I held out for the veggie version of the Somsa, hand-made pastry parcels filled with pumpkin which were delicious. They also had a beef and lamb version. With ample sampling of alcohol taking place the tasty food was a welcome respite – a great way to line one’s stomach.
We were then ushered towards the cabinet of ‘vodka dreams’ to pick out a flavour to try. I went straight in for the lavender. The sweet floral infusion was spot on. I’m not usually one for neat vodka, but this was one I could get used to very easily.
The evening ended with a Berry Shampanski. It was another cocktail with an extensive list of ingredients – Russian caravan tea, vestal vodka, blackberry wine, beetroot syrup, rosehip jam, lemon, mandarin, pink grapefruit and topped with gunnamatta earl grey foam. It was deliciously fruity and tangy and again didn’t last long. A common theme with me and cocktails, ahem.
The subterranean restaurant with its geometric blue tiled walls, hand carved wooden columns and hexagonal tables all adds to its Eastern promise. Samarkand definitely puts Uzbeki food on London’s gastronomy trail.
There is also a 2 for 1 offer from its cocktail menu between 5 – 8pm. Giving you plenty of time to acquaint yourself with the amazing tipples from the bar.
It was a great showcase of the drinks and food Samarkand has to offer. I even came away learning a few things about my favourite tipple. Did you know that vodka means ‘little water’ in Russian? See. Know you’ve learnt something too!
And with the 2 for 1 offer I know I’ll certainly be back to work my way through the intriguing cocktail menu.
Samarkand | 33 Charlotte Street | London | W1T 3RR
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