In this age of crossover cuisine, the food of Georgia, while having a distinctive character of its own, embodies a blend of European and Middle Eastern culinary traditions. It also offers a wide range of meat-based and vegetarian options. And to wash it all down, there are robust, complex wines whose lineage goes back to the very origins of viniculture.
In Georgia these are all consumed in enormous quantities, with the accelerating encouragement of the Tamada, a master of ceremonies and performance artist who leads the celebrants in toast after toast – to each other, their women, their friends, their ancestors and their descendents, culminating in a ritual orgy of poetry, song and dance. It's a hard act to follow.
Because there is no sizeable Georgian community in London, there have been very few restaurants that offer the food and wine, let alone the festivities. Enter the glamorous, multi-talented and unpronounceable Tamara Lordkipanidze, who set out to realize a childhood dream. She tells the story in her own words much more eloquently than any summary I might set down in print:
At a recent luncheon for the Guild of Food Writers we were given a generous sampling of the food and wine on the restaurant menu:
Ispanaki - steamed spinach with onions, herbs, & walnuts [right]
Citeli Lobio - red beans with walnuts, herbs, and Georgian spices [right]
Badrijani - stuffed aubergines with onions, herbs, and walnuts [right]
Khachapuri - cheese-filled griddle baked flat bread
Baje - traditional Georgian walnut sauce
Tkemali'- home-made plum sauce
Shoti Puri' - bread baked in the charcoal oven
McvaneLobio - green beans with eggs, onions, herbs, and garlic
Ajapsandali - ratatouille with aubergines, potatoes, sweet pepper, and tomatoes
Chaqapuli -spicy lamb casserole flavored with wine and plum sauce
Khinkali - the ubiquitous Georgian dumplings with juicy meat filling
Georgian Pudding - red grapes, corn or wheat flour cooked slowly, cooled & topped with nuts
Chitisrdze' - honey cream cake glazed with chocolate
Ideali' - traditional Georgian walnut cake
Tsinandali - dry wine, crisp and fresh with hints of melon and fruit salad
Satrapezo - dry dense deep black red with intense aromas of forest fruit, dark chocolate, and hint of violet and vanilla [right]
Kindzmarauli - semi-sweet made from only Saperavi grapes, a medium-bodied and deliciously smooth wine, crimson pink in colour, with notes of red cherry and spice
Khvanchkara - sweet, one of Georgia 's unique gently sweet red wines made from a blend of two local specialties - Alexandreuli and Mujuretuli - and grown in the controlled appellation zone of Khvanchkara, on the picturesque slopes of Caucasus mountains in the northern part of Georgia
With the domestic economy in free fall, Tamara set out to open a pioneering ethnic restaurant based on culinary integrity and fair prices. She was fortunate, she told me, that the banks refused to back her – instead, friends and family came forward with the generosity, imagination and faith that the moneybags so sorely lacked. Some of her supporters even help with the cooking!
With M.A.s in both Economics and Business Administration, Tamara knew what she was letting herself in for. But unlike some wishful thinkers in the restaurant trade, she's not a fugitive stockbroker; all her work experience has been in charitable financial institutions and she still holds a "day job" as Director of the Brixton Credit Union.
For the full menu, click on the image on the right. Come for Sunday lunch – the breaking of Shoti Puri' and the quaffing of Satrapezo could restore, not only your bodily well being, but even your faith in the human race!
28 July 2009