Tamada: Promise versus delivery (December 2016)

Boundary Road, which marks the eponymous border between the boroughs of Westminster and Camden has a remarkably diverse range of restaurants along the small stretch of its western end. The Meghna Grill Indian is a much-loved and familiar favourite, but my dining comrades and I were in search of something different while in the area on a recent weekday evening and so opted for Tamada, which can probably claim to be one of London’s few Georgian restaurants. Prior to my visit, I have to confess knowing very little about said country. A quick look at a world map shows it located on the edge of the Black Sea, bordering Turkey, Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Unsurprisingly, its cuisine draws on influences from all of these diverse neighbours and when we stopped outside the restaurant to review the menu, our taste buds were simulated by the range of dishes, which mostly appeared to be utterly unlike those on offer elsewhere, at least in mainstream London. Additionally, Georgia claims to be the country where the wine-producing vine as we know it today originated, and so the drinks also promised a novelty aspect, a chance to sample the indigenous Saperavi grape. A large number of the tables were occupied, but we could see some spare, and so in we stepped. Here, however, it begun to go downhill. The room itself was rustically basic and the service friendly, but the food did not quite live up to its initial promise and, by 9pm we were the only diners left, responsible for making our own atmosphere. On the positive side, our meze platter and cheese-baked flatbread stood out, but the remainder of the dishes did leave us mostly disappointed. The flavours and the composition of the former were impressively diverse and the aubergine dip in particular was excellent, while the bread typified archetypal comfort food. Less encouragingly, our ‘kuchmachi megrulad’ starter of pork lungs, livers and hearts with onions, walnuts, garlic and Georgian spice appeared as manna-from-heaven for a lover of offal, yet the end-product was mostly chewy and stringy meat. Sadly, this approach to meat preparation carried through to our veal main, while one of our other mains – a dish of stewed beans and local spices – distinctly lacked flavour and was almost a chore to finish. At least the Saperavi delivered, most reminiscent perhaps of a young Cabernet. At c£30/head all-in, we certainly didn’t feel like we had done badly (and the portion sizes were definitely generous); more, it was just an anti-climax relative to our prior expectations.