Legend has it that when God divided the world among the nations, the Georgians were busy feasting elsewhere and were late for the ceremony. When they eventually arrived, all of the pieces of property were already handed out. God then decided to give to the Georgians the piece of land he kept for himself – an amazing country with fertile orchards, sunny coastal regions, breathtaking mountains and mesmerising valleys.
When my friend Georgia found out about my blog, she suggested we go to Tbilisi on Holloway Road. Georgia wasn’t initially on my list of countries to cover for G – I had meant to do Ghanaian next, but never got around to it – it would have been cheating anyway, because Ghanaian food is something which is delicious and not new to me. Want to try it for yourself? Spinach & Agushi run a stall at both Exmouth Market and Broadway market at various points throughout the week. Have the peanut chicken.
I was not surprised that Georgia wanted me to try Georgian food. If I had a cuisine named after me, I would want to eat it too. The closest I think I can get is Joanna’s in Crystal Palace – but this is not a cuisine, it is a place.
I know very little about Georgia. The fact that I had to look it up on a map made it all that much more intriguing. Plus, MY FRIEND’S NAME IS GEORGIA. How could I say no?
Disclaimer – Georgia is not Georgian. She’s British, of Egyptian origin. I could have easily gone for Egyptian food again.
Georgia gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991; considered a “transcontinental country,” it straddles Eastern Europe and Southwest Asia and is still trying to make friends with Russia following a long and violent dispute over territorial boundaries. Georgia is home to one of the world’s oldest Jewish populations – convenient, because I am Jewish, so if I like the food so much I want to move there, I will fit in. That covers pretty much all I know about Georgia. That, and it has a reputation for great food and wine. Or, so I’m told.
When we arrived at Tbilisi early on a Tuesday evening, we were the second party to arrive, though the restaurant would not be empty for long, despite its location in a relatively dingy part of Highbury. The first thing I noticed when we were seated was that my feat did not touch the floor.
“Do your feet touch the floor?” I asked Georgia.
“Yes,” she replied, “but that’s because I’m an adult.”
I assume Georgian people are very, very tall. I must look into this.
To start, we ordered two glasses of Georgian house red. I’d thought to order a bottle – Georgia (being the adult, and all) declined – it was a school night, after all. I was a bit disappointed, because this girl likes to pair wine with food – but lucky for me, the food would be so good that I would fast forget all about the liquid part of my meal – nor would I have room for it.
While perusing the menu earlier that afternoon, both of us had been drawn to Tbilisi’s carb and cheese-loaded appetisers – we figured it would take a lot of self control not to order one each. So, we ordered one each. The lobiani – a griddled flatbread filled with spicy red lentils – went down well, but not as well as the acharuli – a generous portion of doughy cheese bread topped with raw egg. Who needs vegetables? In Eastern Europe, potato is vegetable. In our case, bread is vegetable.
To be fair, we were given some vegetable even though we didn’t order any – our waiter brought us a complimentary order of baked aubergines topped with herbs and pomegranates. Perhaps he though we needed at least one of our five a day.
After all the bread, I could have gone home a happy girl. Despite knowing more food was coming, I couldn’t help myself from polishing off the acharuli – maybe it was the fact that it was shaped like a banana boat, but I couldn’t let any of it go to waste. There is something about bread, cheese and egg which sounds very generic – I can assure you that this dish was anything but.
For her main course, Georgia ordered the khinkali – seasoned beef mince, wrapped in a “tasty casing.” This turned out to be dumplings, and she couldn’t have been more delighted. Out of an ample selection of chicken and vegetarian dishes, I opted for the satsivee – chicken in walnut sauce, served with ghomi, a rice and cornflower puree which tastes like polenta. I had no idea what to expect, having never been either to Georgia or to a Georgian restaurant – but if our starters were promising to say the least, then the main would certainly not fail to impress.
I had expected to receive a chicken breast, either covered or marinated in what I thought walnut sauce should look like, not that I knew what that was. Kind of like pesto, I guess, just brown. Instead came a steaming hot clay dish containing what looked very similar to an Indian curry but which had a very intricate flavour that was hard to pin down. I loved the earthy flavour – it was almost – well, nutty. Clever, I know. Thank goodness this is only a hobby. Honestly though, I would not have picked out the walnut flavour if my day job depended on it. Delicious, nonetheless.
The verdict – an unusual meal which was a steal at £25 each including service. Much like other food from that part of the world though, it is heavy – and a giant serving of cheese bread each is probably a little bit unnecessary. When the dessert menu arrived, I couldn’t even look. Top tip: Arrive hungry!
Need to know:
91 Holloway Road
Nearest tube: Highbury & Islington
Opening hours: Daily 6-11 pm.