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Georgia, I Adore Ya

February 2, 2013

Georgian Monastery

Last year I went to Georgia; a country I would never have considered visiting had I not been invited. As is often the way when one doesn’t expect these things, I completely fell in love with the place; the people, the culture, the wine and most of all, the food. Since then it’s been a mission to try and perfect recipes and also to seek out Georgian food in London. On the cooking front, khachapuri has been something of an obsession; it’s basically a cheese-stuffed bread, made with an incredibly salty Georgian cheese – we’re talking more salty than halloumi; being a complete and utter salt whore, I adored it. I lugged 6 khachapuri back on the plane with me and ate them, cold, for several days after my return, mourning their diminishing number with every bite.

Khachapuri in Georgia 

Also on the Georgia trip with me was Kerstin Rodgers, who took a similar liking to this supremely comforting  bread. We tried cooking a recipe from The Georgian Feast, an award winning cook book, but it just wasn’t right at all. We didn’t have the correct cheese but it wasn’t just that. Not the kind of people to give up, we got together recently to give khachapuri another try, using Ottolenghi’s recipe from Jerusalem. It worked a treat. I even managed to find sulguni in a Russian deli in Queensway (Kalinka), which I believe is one of the only if not the only place in London that sells it. They also sell Armenian cognac in bottles shaped like AK47s. One of those got bought, obviously; the last in the shop. When we requested to buy it the lady behind the counter got her walkie talkie out and started speaking frantically in Russian.

Oh how we feasted. Ottolenghi also includes a substitute cheese filling, and that also tastes really quite authentic. Read Kerstin’s post about our khachapuri making evening here; we tried just about every type of random cheese London had to offer (you’ll also get a story about my love life while you’re over there).

Sulguni cheese

Magnificent ‘Ajarian’ (boat shaped) khachapuri cooked in Kerstin’s Aga (and served on a very beautiful tray…)

‘Megruli’ (circular, stuffed) khachapuri, again cooked in the Aga

I also had great success cooking a recipe for BBQ pork and plum sauce in the summer; these spice rubbed skewers was everywhere in Georgia, grilled over hot coals in a pit in the ground and served with sliced raw shallots and a sour/sweet, dill heavy plum sauce. I was amazed at how authentic my plum sauce tasted; although our plums are completely different, the unripe ones we get in the supermarkets are perfect as they’re just as sour. A use for unripe supermarket fruit. Who knew?

Pork grilling in Georgia

The finished pork in Georgia

My Georgian BBQ pork

My Georgian plum sauce

Seeking out authentic tasting Georgian food in London has been much more hit and miss. First I visited Colchis, which is a kind of poshed up Georgian restaurant in Notting Hill;  each to their own, but having visited the country, that’s just the most bizarre concept and it didn’t sit well or indeed taste particularly good. My next experience was completely unexpected, coming as it did from the Pasha Hotel in Camberwell, where I spotted khachapuri on the menu in their Kazakh Kyrgyz restaurant. It was nothing at all like the examples I tasted in Georgia, made from a flaky pastry rather than a bread. It did taste rather nice however and I liked the idea of serving it with raw onion.

And so to my best restaurant experience yet: The Georgian in Clapham South. During the day it’s a somewhat run of the mill cafe serving the usual sandwiches and hot drinks but during the evening they serve Georgian food. I’ll be honest, they seemed surprised to see me when I walked in at 6.30 and a woman initially tried to speak to me in Georgian.

All the classics were there on the menu and I was properly excited. The khachapuri was rather good; nowhere near as oily as the real  thing (I really liked the supreme unhealthiness of the oil) but very tasty nonetheless. The best I’ve had in a restaurant by miles.

Pkhali are pureed vegetables mixed with walnuts, which are abundant in Georgia; we chose spinach and beetroot. They’re like a rich vegetable spread, intense with garlic and dotted with pomegranate seeds. In Georgia each ball is always studded with just one pomegranate seed, like a little jewel nestling in the top.

We stuffed ourselves full of traditional Georgian dumplings, called khinkali, which have very thick and rustic casings, filled with minced meats and their juices and heavily flavoured with black pepper. They take some careful eating; the way to do it is to hold them by the nipple at the top and carefully bite in. We ate them with a green chilli sauce, which was really fierce.

Dumplings with green chilli sauce at The Georgian

The Georgian is the best Georgian place I’ve been to in London so far and I want more people to visit because we were the only evening diners. At the moment they’re clearly frequented more for coffee and cakes which is sad, they ought to be serving many more of their excellent Georgian dishes.

I’ll continue working my way around London’s Georgian restaurants however; I’ve heard that Little Georgia is good. Does anyone have any favourite places?

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34 Comments

  • Reply Yuki February 2, 2013 at 7:52 am

    Hi,

    We were just looking at tickets to go there this Spring, the food looks amazing, very filling! In the meantime I’ll definitely try the Georgian.

    Yuki

    • Helen
      Reply Helen February 3, 2013 at 1:32 pm

      Definitely go! An amazing country.

  • Reply Paul February 2, 2013 at 10:18 am

    I had a greek girlfriend who used to come around and make cheese stuffed bread. It was exactly as in your pictures. She cooked it under the grill. For her it was very easy to make.

    Perhaps in a greek cookbook there is such a recipe.

    Paul

    • Helen
      Reply Helen February 3, 2013 at 1:32 pm

      Perhaps, although there are plenty of Georgian ones to try! The Ottolenghi one is excellent so I think my search is over.

  • Reply Alice February 2, 2013 at 7:09 pm

    This is 5 minutes from where I live and I’ve bought their delicious home made cakes in here but not eaten in the evening. I must be mad not to have tried it – you have inspired me! They are usually quite busy in the evenings and they deserve to be busier, thanks for pointing this out, we need good local restaurants to survive!

    • Helen
      Reply Helen February 3, 2013 at 1:33 pm

      Indeed! Do check it out.

  • Reply Tania February 2, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    There used to be one on near on Holloway Rd called Tsiblisi – not sure if its still there though

    • Helen
      Reply Helen February 3, 2013 at 1:33 pm

      Apparently it is still there…must try it

  • Reply Jane February 2, 2013 at 11:25 pm

    I really like the khinkali at Tbilisi on Highbury end of Holloway Road. Not sure if it might be one of those restaurants you feel is too formal but I dont think they do anything particularly fancy with the food at least. My partner and I love it and still make regular pilgrimages from south of the river made so much easier by the Overground now coming to Peckham Rye.

    • Helen
      Reply Helen February 3, 2013 at 1:33 pm

      Yes, I am enjoying the marmalade line, although every time I get on it I marvel at how no-one seems to be over the age of 25

  • Reply Jane February 2, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    Oh and the first time we went there, a Georgian couple were having a wedding reception out the back which I took to be a good sign. They did ,however, dance to Careless Whisper, the most inappropriate reception song ever, which might have been a bad sign.

    • Helen
      Reply Helen February 3, 2013 at 1:34 pm

      HA HA. Careless Whisper. Wow.

  • Reply Billy February 3, 2013 at 11:34 am

    Yum, khachapuri – Tbilisi on the Holloway Road is v good.

    • Helen
      Reply Helen February 3, 2013 at 1:34 pm

      Another vote for Tbilisi!

  • Reply Gin and Crumpets February 4, 2013 at 11:03 am

    Those Ajarian breads look amazing. I almost licked my screen, they look so good. Totally drolling now.

  • Reply Jess February 4, 2013 at 11:20 am

    Hi Helen. Thanks for the tip about The Georgian – hopefully I’ll be able to convince some friends to give Georgian food a go with me, now that the gingerline makes it easier to get to Clapham.

    One question (which should help in winning my friends round) – what kinds of prices are dishes there?

    • Helen
      Reply Helen February 4, 2013 at 12:26 pm

      Ah yes – mains are about £12 I think. Oh and it’s BYO!

  • Reply Edna February 4, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    I spent a month in Azerbaijan last year and the food was somewhat similar, I really miss certain dishes (like piti soup) so will have to keep the Georgian in mind if I pop over to London again soon! Also, those dumplings look a lot like Chinese xiaolongbao!

    • Helen
      Reply Helen February 4, 2013 at 1:00 pm

      They do, yes but are a good deal more rustic, with much thicker skins and less soupy.

  • Reply Alice February 4, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    Can’t wait to try the Ottolenghi version now – I tried Nigella’s recipe in Feast recently but it just wasn’t quite right despite the 1kg of cheese!

    Little Georgia in Barnsbury is very good, I prefer it to Tbilisi – haven’t tried the original Little Georgia in East London but I presume that is good too.

    • Helen
      Reply Helen February 4, 2013 at 1:51 pm

      1KG OF CHEESE!!!!!

  • Reply Niamh February 4, 2013 at 11:28 pm

    Hey Helen! Yup – it is terrific and local to me – yay! I believe it is a sister restaurant of Little Georgia which is also lovely near where I used to live in the East :)

    • Helen
      Reply Helen February 5, 2013 at 9:21 am

      I love it! It’s really easy for me to get there now too yay.

  • Reply Elena February 6, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    Restaurant Tamada in North West London is the best one as I have been to all other restaurants in London. Really authentic food! They even have cooking classes and guess what? I took one! Amazing experience and so much fun!

    • Helen
      Reply Helen February 6, 2013 at 1:40 pm

      Awesome, thank you!

  • Reply Nadia February 8, 2013 at 11:02 pm

    Erebuni in Lancaster gate. Amazing, just go!

  • Reply Helen February 10, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    Ooh a new contender!

  • Reply Rick February 12, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    All looks gorgeous! Wish I were closer to that Georgia than the one that features Atlanta!

  • Reply Sam February 13, 2013 at 10:41 am

    I feel SO hungry now

  • Reply Shu Han February 16, 2013 at 12:58 am

    URGH hungry. those pork skewers. URGH.

  • Reply Louisa March 7, 2013 at 9:29 am

    Another vote for Tamada, which is excellent. I’ve recently moved to Tbilisi and I’m loving the food SO HARD.

  • Reply Pedro @ Travel with Pedro January 17, 2014 at 11:31 am

    What a post! I’m in love with Georgia and Georgian food, I’ll try The Georgian next week. Hopefully they’ll make a good adjarian khatchapuri! :-)

    • Helen
      Reply Helen January 17, 2014 at 11:32 am

      Let me know what you think!

  • Reply Ollie January 27, 2015 at 10:40 pm

    I would like to recommend Iberia (don’t fooled by the name – there is only Georgian to be found here!) on Caledonian Road. We had 3 excellent courses with a nice bottle of Georgian red, rounded off by some super strong coffee. Our waitress clearly had a passion for the food and her country, which made the experience all the more pleasant. Please try it!

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