Tel: +44 (0)20 7249 9070
Address: 2 Broadway Market, Hackney, E8 4QJ
Cuisine Type: Georgian (former Soviet republic)
Bethnal Green (CENTRAL)
Little Georgia is a curious aberration in the wilds of Hackney. Housed in what was an old pub, just up from the Regent’s Canal, its spare décor and Spartan dark wood tables and chairs are slightly off-putting. There’s plenty of space so one wonders why the table sizes couldn’t be a little more generous.
The colouring is warm, with burgundy curtains and back wall, though the welcome could have been a little more so. Maybe in Georgia it’s not polite to smile at your clientele? Our waiter, who turned out to be a perfectly charming man, had a curious and slightly unsettling manner during most of our meal – not unfriendly or unhelpful, but it seemed as if his mind was miles away. In Georgia perhaps.
We were there to sample what we had heard was fascinating cooking, and in that we weren’t disappointed. To start with there is an extraordinary range of vegetable salads, including dishes (such as Russian salad) that in this country are usually a nasty pale imitation of the real thing, even if not actually out of a tin. Russian salad in Little Georgia is gorgeous. Ajabsandali mixes aubergines and red peppers in a garlic and tomato sauce; Beetroot Pkhali is a pate with beetroot and walnuts, and there’s also a spinach variety. Other options are Mushroom Blinis, Borscht, and a Ukrainian Borscht – for which the classic cabbage and beetroot soup has added bacon, sausage and black olives.
There were so many things that sounded good (all at around £4) that we took the easy way out and ordered a meze, which at £12.50 was more than enough for two people and could probably serve four quite happily. A plate arrived with six of the splendidly colourful cold starters, and a round of Hachapuri – Georgian cheese bread, which is a speciality of the house. This is something else again and just has to be tried – the closest I can get to describing it is that it’s like thin and tender pitta bread filled with a thin layer of the most delicate curd cheese. Sounds awful but in fact it’s delicious, and made me regret I couldn’t try the other speciality bread, stuffed with butter beans (yes, really), onions and fresh herbs. The latter provide the other abiding memory I will carry of this meal. Herbs are used with great flair and abandon, particularly raw in the starters, and the resulting flavours are wonderful – intense bursts of flavour, and some great and unusual combinations.
Main courses are also interesting. I tried the pan-fried duck (£11.50), marinated in lemon, wine and coriander. The flavour was excellent (though the duck could have been a little rarer for my taste) and the crisp vegetable salad and rice flavoured with dill were excellent. My companion chose Gupta (£9) – Georgian meatballs with fresh herbs and spices in a roast red pepper and tomato sauce – and they were superb, light and succulent.
Puddings, listed on a blackboard along with some specials, also offer a taste of the unusual – apple perogi (£3.50) is the Russian equivalent of apple crumble and is quite delicious. Napoleon Cake and a sort of lemon mille feuille were other options, and there are also fruit sorbets and some delicious ice creams on offer.
The wine list has a good mixture of old and new worlds, together with a couple of Georgian red wines that you are certainly unlikely to find in most restaurants. If you like a lot of tannin they’re worth a try, but other countries provide smoother options. Red and white wines start at a very reasonable £10 a bottle. Kruipuik – an old Polish honey liqueur – is fun if you have a sweet tooth.
Overall, Little Georgia is well worth a visit. The surroundings and the ambience may not be luxurious, but the food makes your taste buds really sit up and take notice, and that’s worth a detour.