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Location: 74 Blackfriars Road, Southwark. London.

Dark woods of the waiting area bar opened up into a large expanse of redone industrial in white alternating with bare brick, with high ceilings and cross-beams. Six of us, including haggisthesecond, naxos, aca, easterbunny, and C., settled down in a table surrounded by other tables, a lively restaurant on a Tuesday night. The hard walls bounced the sounds around enough to make it hard to talk from one end of the table to the other, although not so problematic from side to side. With tasty, rich breads and a light horseradish spready to keep us going, we settled down to peruse the menu.

It was rich with eastern European mystery, dishes whose names none of us recognized. It reflected my ignorance of Eastern European cuisine; the restaurant may be called Baltic, but knowing I was equally seeing Hungarian dishes on the menu, I realized how few of them I could accurately categorize. Dish names were described, but not always to full enlightenment. Barszcz, for example, is a "clear beetroot soup with krokiecik".

I started with a vivid sour cherry soup, a smooth purée of cherry, perhaps rounded out by a light complement of potato, with a large number of pitted cherries lurking under the surface. Its relaxed, soothingly sweet (not TOO sweet) taste made me think it would be as good for dessert as appetizer. I tried one of easterbunny's pierogis, precisely formed dumplings with crisply defined edges, soft and tasty.

Operating on the logic that when indecisive, order the dish I lease understand or would be otherwise likely to eat, I had the salt beef with beetroot botwinka for my main. I asked the waitress for a recommendation of a side to complement the dish, but was underwhelmed by the chive mash, both for its flavor and consistency, but also because the botwinka involved potato. The salt beef, however, was superb: pink, tender, tasty, robust. The sweetness of the cooked beetroot complemented the meat's sweetness and flavor. Other sides were better, particularly the kasza and bacon, and the very garlicky green beans.

Despite the relative heartiness of the meal, we succumbed to dessert (except for naxos). For all the choices, we all went for the chocolate and and hazelnut torta with honeycomb ice cream. It was disappointing, its flavors all very low-key. Fortunately, we ordered a bottle of Tokaji 5 Puttonyos to share, the dense, smooth dessert wine whose delights eclipsed the dullness of the torta.

We started with pleasantly light cocktails and moved on to water and wine. C. is still gushing over the Frederic Mabileau Cabernet Sauvignon (2005). The Domaine Jacques Rouzé Quincy (2006) smelled of pear and grass, its taste a rather dry, light blend of lemon, pear, and hints of walnut. Service was reasonably good, and coat check service excellent.

By and large, the food was quite good, well-chosen and executed. When it disappointed, it was dull, not bad. I would happily go back; but I would equally happily try out other eastern European restaurants, to better learn just how to divide the dishes down further by country.


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 8th, 2008 07:53 pm (UTC)
Georgian food is good, if you can find it. The only Georgian restaurant I knew of in London, out in Hackney, has closed. It's not, I believe, technically in Europe, but they're working on joining NATO which makes them look somewhat European. Anyway, whichever way they point their guns, the food's definitely like Eastern Europe and not so much like the Middle East.
Jun. 8th, 2008 08:14 pm (UTC)
The other week, while browsing Eastern European cookbooks on amazon.co.uk, I was struck by how many Georgian cookbooks were highly ranked in the list of most frequently bought, after Polish and Russian ones. Knowing nothing about Georgian cuisine, they stood out.

London Eating lists two which may still exist: Mimino in Kensington and Tbilisi on Holloway Road.

They compete in Eurovision. That's good enough for me. ;)
Jun. 8th, 2008 08:37 pm (UTC)
The one in Hackney was called "Little Georgia" so these are, I suspect, unrelated.
Jun. 8th, 2008 09:55 pm (UTC)
The only Georgian restaurant I knew of in London, out in Hackney, has closed. It's not, I believe, technically in Europe

Oh, I think Hackney still counts as being in Europe. Technically.
Jun. 9th, 2008 08:59 am (UTC)
Although it's never competed in Eurovision.
Jun. 8th, 2008 07:55 pm (UTC)
Uh, also the Gay Hussar is the canonical Eastern European restaurant in London, I believe. It may or may not justify the ££££.
Jun. 8th, 2008 08:17 pm (UTC)
The Good Food Guide gives average spend at the Gay Hussar as UKP 28, which isn't as bad as I feared, but rates the food a 1 (out of a theoretical 10). Still, that's an endorsement, as they only rate places they're actually recommending.
Jun. 8th, 2008 08:13 pm (UTC)
The Little Georgia did reopen recently a hundred yards or so from its previous location on Broadway Market but with a very restricted snack menu and slightly wobbly service at weekends. Nonetheless, they still serve those wonderful Georgian salads and the Georgian breakfast at weekends can be very good indeed if you get there reasonably early.

The Gay Hussar is good, but not a place I would ever go at my own expense. It is not good enough to spend your own money at, though the food is pretty good and some of the wines remarkable. As you would expect, they have wonderful Tokay.
Jun. 8th, 2008 08:21 pm (UTC)
Little Georgia sounds nicely accessible and affordable, both good features for a sampler.

Wine is where it can get very expensive very quickly. I recently was casually invited to a group dinner at Maze, in part on the basis that one of the people involved in this knows the manager. (It would happen in July if at all.) Only in retrospect did I realize that these may be dangerous people to eat with. It's one thing to budget for extravagant food. It's another to gamble on other peoples' wine budgets.
Jun. 8th, 2008 08:39 pm (UTC)
Ah, right, I noticed Little Georgia's original location had closed down and turned into something that is, I think, French. I went there several times when they did dinner before they moved and it was very nice.
Jun. 8th, 2008 08:19 pm (UTC)
We've been impressed by the Baltic the 2 or 3 times we've been there, but I suspect it is all rather contingent upon what menu choices one makes.

There used to be a Polish restaurant more or less opposite the Science Museum (once had a conference dinner there which was not, however, particularly E European), and another, more humble, establishment, near the Tube station - the latter is now, I think, a sushi bar.
Jun. 8th, 2008 08:24 pm (UTC)
What do you remember anything in particular you've eaten at Baltic?
Jun. 8th, 2008 08:48 pm (UTC)
I think I had the cherry soup! Can't otherwise remember offhand - might have been goose?
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 8th, 2008 08:50 pm (UTC)
I think that's it - if it was being closed for refurbishment after a fire I might well have assumed it was gone forever, and I don't get down to S Ken that often.
Jun. 8th, 2008 08:56 pm (UTC)
Zorya was quite good when i went. although the vodka menu is quite scary.
Jun. 9th, 2008 02:57 am (UTC)
wow sounds good! I've kinda grown up with Eastern European food, well just polish so I guess I've never thought about finding restaurants for it. But I've heard of some good ones and I've really wanted to try one for awhile. Maybe I'll find a good sounding one in NYC or something.
Jun. 9th, 2008 11:34 am (UTC)
i'd like to go there, possibly with some of my (Eastern European) workmates ;)
Jun. 10th, 2008 04:57 am (UTC)
My new dream is to eat at a restaurant that serves pierogies.
Jul. 14th, 2008 11:47 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this recommendation. I went there for lunch today and liked it.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )