Restaurants; Russian revolution

Forget roulette with some miscellaneous meat and veg. Today's Russian restaurants offer a feast for all the senses, says Nikki Spencer
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The Independent Culture
Mention Russian cuisine, and most of us will conjure up pictures of incredibly expensive caviar or lumps of unidentifiable meat swimming in a cabbage-and-potato mulch. But there's more to food from the former Soviet Union than many would imagine, according to Tony Jones who has just opened a Georgian restaurant in Hackney's Broadway Market.

"There are some terrible stereotypes of Russian food," admits Tony. "But dishes from Georgia, in particular, are something very special. This is the gourmet cuisine of Russia," he adds.

It certainly seems to be popular in London at the moment. Little Georgia is the third Georgian restaurant to open in this part of the city in the last few years.

Georgia, which lies on the Eastern shores of the Black Sea, is blessed with a favourable climate and a fertile soil, and its food combines Asian and European influences. Unlike much Russian food (some vegetarian visitors recount stories of being laughed out of restaurants), many of these dishes are meat-free.

On the day I spoke to Tony, he'd been up at 5am getting fresh vegetables from the market. Little Georgia currently has five vegetarian and vegan main courses such as ajabsandali (aubergine and vegetable hotpot), and starters such as pkhali (vegetable-and-walnut pate) and mushroom blinis.

Georgia is also famous for its wine, which Tony imports himself. But you can, of course, take the opportunity to sample a variety of Russian vodkas.

It is this - the "white magic" - that Mark Sclar, manager of Luba's Place in Islington, believes is partly responsible for the recent growth in popularity of Russian restaurants.

"A lot of young people come here for the vodka at first, and then keep coming back because they like the lively atmosphere and food as well," he explains.

BORSCHT AND NO TEARS

Little Georgia

2 Broadway Market, London E8

(0171-275 0208)

Menu includes familiar treats such as borscht, plus more unusual dishes such as hachapuri (cheese bread); starters pounds 4, main courses pounds 8.

Luba's Place

164 Essex Rd, London N1 (0171-704 2775)

This traditional Russian restaurant offers 75 varieties of vodka, plus dishes such as stroganoff and goulash.

Tblisi

91 Holloway Rd, London N7

This Russian restaurant (opened July) serves Georgian specialities to local residents.

Trojka

104 Regent's Park Rd, London NW1 (0171-483 3765)

This tea room (Russian tea typically served with a shot of vodka) and restaurant in Primrose Hill serves traditional Russian and more European dishes. Live Russian music on Fri and Sat.

The Tsar's Bar (right)

The Langham Hilton, 1 Portland Place, London W1 (0171-636 1000)

BBC execs frequent this hotel bar which has 110 different vodkas, hot and cold zakuskis (snacks) plus oysters and caviar (Russian Beluga pounds 132 for 50g).

Nikita's

65 Ifield Rd, London SW10 (0171-352 6326)

Nearly 30 years old, this Russian restaurant in Chelsea attracts a cosmopolitan crowd.

Caviar Caspia

18 Bruton Place, London W1 (0171-493 2612)

This Mayfair restaurant serves Franco-Russian food in upmarket surroundings.

NS

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