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Thursday, 17 November 2016

Samarkand, Fitzrovia

















I  first visited Moscow when it was the capital of The Soviet Union. A grey, grindingly grim gulag populated by surly, downtrodden paupers in naff Nylon tracksuits, it felt only marginally to the left of Jeremy Corbyn's vision for a more egalitarian Britain. In terms of diet (ubiquitous fried sturgeon  tougher even than Nicola, Tsarina of Scotland), for a foodie, Moscow's only saving grace was its limitless stock of precious foreign exchange-earning luxury vodkas. It was only heroic intake of said bad boys that stopped my balls falling off en route to the Bolshoi whose thieving cloakroom babushkas would have happily sent a mate and me, like Zhivago and Lara, back out into the frigid windswept wasteland without the designer coats we had consigned to their care - cue a Cold War stand-off that saw World War III only narrowly avoided. Lately, Eastern Europe's signature tipple has been marginalised in London bars. But as the capital reaches 'peak gin,' I increasingly crave the clean hit of a textbook vodka martini. At the mezzanine bar at Samarkand, billed as London’s only Uzbek destination restaurant, there are over 100 premium brands from either side of the old Iron Curtain. But it's Russia that runs the show (natch). Served on a silver platter with a spoonful of caviar, a squid ink vodkatini uses Beluga Noble - entry level among a sterling selection that Russia's chest-puffing potato-faced Prez, Putin, can be truly proud of...at prices that would make Roman Abramovich wince. The mark of a killer martini, Samarkand's acts as liquid cocaine to the brain. Sipped neat from delicate porcelain cups as custom dictates, a cedar nut-enhanced Siberian winter wheat vodka called Mamont, poured from a bottle shaped as a mammoth’s tusk, is another horny beast. Less obvious vodka producer nations’ finest specimens also bear investigation, however: D1 English potato vodka; Chase Islay Whisky Cask Aged Vodka from Scotland's Laphroaig distillery, and American maize-based organic Prairie vodka, not least among them. Other bases are available across a range of cocktails and service is a sweet as Sauvelle Crafted; a creamy rich vanilla and cherry blossom French wheat vodka distilled in a microbrewery in Cognac at £119 per bottle. What snacks we try - smoked aubergine puree and skewers of yellow fin tuna and flaccid yellow courgette with a bland sour cream dip - don't have me rushing to add a trip to Tashkent to my bucket list, unfortunately. Might that be why, on a Thursday evening in busy Fitzrovia, Samarkand is as deserted as the Steppes in January?

33 Charlotte Street WT 3RR 3871 4969 www.samarkand.london