My friend organized a dinner for a large group of people (almost 30 and counting!) at Samarqand on Thayer Street. Samarqand serves food from Central Asia – in particular from Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekhistan.
The evening started well with small plates of hummous and bread (made in-house) and flatbreads stuffed with goats cheese – both of which I couldn’t get enough of.
The fixed menu looked promising and our waiter for the night Alexi patiently explained the dishes in detail. We could each choose 1 starter and 1 main course from the set menu. While he was an excellent server, it was a bit silly to have only 1 waiter for a group of 30 people. So small yet important things like serving glasses of water were totally missed - we must have been dehydrated for a good two hours.
The Olivier salad was a classic Russian salad of potatoes, eggs and mayo which my friends seemed to like. I went for the Aubergine caviar which was a dissapointment – stewed vegetables in a tomato based sauce were hardly inspiring. The Lamb Samsa was made of minced lamb and then deep fried – tasted quite nice but definitely filled you up. Jigar Birion was chicken livers cooked with shallots – again a very heavy dish that just felt too stodgy to me.
For the main course, I was torn between the Lamb Manty and the much lauded SamarQand Plov.
The Lamb Manty was a classic Uzbek dish of large dumplings served with a chilli and yogurt sauce.
I learned Plov is the national dish of Uzbekhistan - a rice and lamb dish cooked with carrots and onions.
In retrospect I wish I had gone with the Manty after tasting some from my friend’s dish. My plate of Plov was tasty but rather one note and very very heavy.
So in terms of food, it was a mixed bag, a couple of good dished offset by some mediocre ones. What felt really strange to me was while the food served had a hearty, home-cooked feel to it, the interiors of the restaurant made you feel as if you were in a lounge bar. For instance, the area we were in had a huge projection screen against a wall – why on earth would you have projection screen at a restaurant? They also have private rooms where you can have a karaoke session and smoke a shisha at the same time.
It seems like they are just catering to the needs of large corporate groups who want to have a good night out and the food was really secondary component. Given the prices and the whole fine dining focus, it's sad that there wasn’t much effort on trying to impress on the food.
What can I say, it's just not the type of restaurant I'd prefer to go. Highly unlikely that I’ll be returning for a second visit. However, if you yearn for Central Asian food downed with shots of Uzbekh vodka and where you can karaoke you're heart out, then it's a definitely a place to check out.
18 Thayer Street London W1U 3JY
Tube: Bond Street/ Baker Street