TIFLIS: GEORGIA ON MY MIND IN MOSCOW
It’s been a long, quite arduous, but thoroughly enjoyable couple of weeks since I left Beijing and headed out on the Trans Mongolian/Siberian Railway via Ulaan Bataar to Moscow.
The food along the way, through Mongolia and into Russia, has been filling and often quite tasty, but I don’t think anyone in their right mind would ever bring themselves to describe it as fine dining consisting, as it did, mostly of cabbage, potatoes and bread in various interesting, and often deep fried, combinations.
So, today, when the poor unfortunates who got to share a train carriage with me for seven nights went off to explore matters of cultural import, I decided to go in search of a good, old fashioned, proper restaurant. One with knives and forks, napkins and all the kind of malarkey that I have missed for the last two and a half months.
A smidgeon of research threw up TIFLIS, widely considere to be one of the best Georgian restaurant in Moscow and well known as a meeting place for those pondering on purchasing gas pipelines and/or English football teams.
So, fter a couple of hours stroll in this vibrant and resurgent city including visits to The Red October Chocolate Factory and through Gorky Park (which will, inevitably, indelibly imprint that song by The Scorpions in your head for the next six weeks) I arrived at Ostozhenka 32 just as they were opening up for the day.
The down the nose glance of the front of house reminded me that I was
a Dressed like a scruffy SOB who has been washing his smalls in tiny hotel sinks using vaguely brown tap water for the last month.
b)Sporting a moustache that made me look like a gay porn star gone to seed. The result of a foolish competition with my fellow travellers to see who could grow the most ridiculous facial fuzz during the trip. I think, given a quick glance in the mirror this morning, the bookies may well have to close the betting.
Still, after a few imperious sniffs, I was allowed in and settled at a rather lovely little table on a terrace dappled with Autumn sunlight where I sat reading my copious notes for EAT MY GLOBE and sipping on a cup or three of strong black tea.
Georgian food is meat heavy with Shashlik (skewers of meat) in particular evidence along with breads, rice and cheese and, to begin, I ordered,kachaturi, a traditional flat bread stuffed with cheese accompanied by, suluguni, two thin swirls of a dense cheese served in yoghurt sauce thick with mint. The bread was a revelation, straight from the oven, it was light and delicious with the cheese layer providing a slightly sour after note. The perfect tool to sop up the minty residue after I had gnawed my way through the chewy cheese swirls.
Along side these two dishes, another Georgian speciality, Bhaza, a mix of beets, walnuts and pomegranate seeds which provided the perfect slightly sharp topping for the last two of the four large slices of bread provided.
To be perfectly frank, that would have been plenty and I sat in a slightly bloated state of discomfort wondering what the Russian for “doggy bag” might be just in case I had to use it for the veal shashlik I had chosen.
Fortunately, I had forgotten that levels of service in Russia make even those in The U.K. seem positively adequate and that the gap between courses is often better measured with a calendar than a watch. So, after about forty five minutes, when my meal finally arrived, I was hungry again and eagerly anticipating my plate of speared calf.
Very good it was too with the chunks of veal remaining moist while delivering the prerequisite char. The accompaniments of rice with bits of stuff in it and tired looking salad leaves added little, but some slightly vinegared onions proved an interesting counterpoint.
Given that some unfathomable political stand off has led to a ban on all Georgian products in Russia, there was none of that rather good Georgian beer on offer and what was on offer was imported and at the nosebleed inducing end of the scale, as indeed were the wines on offer. So, I stuck to the black tea.
I had not expected it to be cheap and I was damn right. By the standards of my trip to date, it was pernicious bearing in mind that a blow out in Beijing cost about £5. But, Moscow is right up there with Oslo and London in the “fuck me” cost of living stakes and RUB4,000 (about £80) seemed about acceptable for a decent meal amongst the fashionable Muscovite elite who had filled the terrace since my early arrival.
It also provided a wake up call that the next stage of EAT MY GLOBE to the USA would provide slightly more stress on my savings that did China, Hong Kong, Mongolia and even Japan. No bad thing for someone who has been able to stretch a little a very long way in the last few weeks.
However, as a way to reacquaint my self with meals that were not cooked by shirtless men with a disposition to phlegm up their guts on to the floor while cooking mystery meat in a wok, it was just what I wanted.