Disappointment
:

“the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations

A downside of being an optimist is the disappointment felt when expectations are not met. An Englishman I am disappointed systematically every two years when our national football team fail to win anything. Our beloved press do such a magnificent job of manufacturing my expectations that come the first whistle the trophy is as good as ours. The fact that England have failed to win a World Cup in my lifetime tells me I should perhaps learn to manage my expectations a little better, and making my way to Tamada, a Georgian restaurant in North West London, these managerial skills were being put to the test. For months fellow food-lovers and globe-trotters alike had been singing the praises of Georgian cuisine.

“It’s in my top three world foods” declared one experience ‘tramper’.

“Best food in all my travels” claimed another.

If these advocates were to be believed, the food from this small country, nestled between Turkey and Russia, was nothing short of world class and so you can understand my optimistic unease while walking the streets of Maida Vale in search of Tamada and my first taste of Georgia.

Arriving at Tamada it was not at all what I expected. I have never been to Georgia, but the restaurant was smarter than I had imagined. It was well lit and sophisticated. White table clothes pulled immaculately on well laid tables that flickered with the soft light of candles that reflected in plentiful deep glasses of ruby red Georgian wine. Late as ever, a busy table of a dozen A to Z guests were already studying the menu, and with two-thirds of the company having been to Georgia, they were involved in animated debate on the merits of the food on offer.

“Khachapuri –ooh I like that!”

“and Ispanaxi we must have the Ispanaxi”

“Oh! Khinkali – the Georgian classic”

“ Ideali! I remember Ideali”

They might as well have been reading the Georgian national football team sheet. These strange calls from the crowd meant nothing to me and so I turned to Tamara, the restaurant owner and manager for a crash course in Georgian cuisine and some well needed advice.

Tamara started Tamada by herself a few years ago. She does not claim to be a cook and her background is surprisingly in finance.

“I have no recipes – when I eat I taste it and after  I can make it…”

she claimed proudly and she has passed on her skills to her well trained team. Catching a glimpse in the kitchen burly men, more suited to guarding nightclubs, were delicately preparing Georgian specialties and waitresses in Georgian national dress were already busy ferrying our starters to our guests.

The first on our table were the Ispanaxi, cold rounds of steamed mashed spinach with onions, fresh herbs and walnuts, garnished with ruby-red pomegranate seeds along with Badrijani – smoky grilled slices of aubergines rolled around a stuffing of onions, herbs and more walnuts. A rich dish of Sacivi, was a hearty blend of chicken in a rich walnut sauce and a Citeli Lobio of red beans with walnuts, herbs and plenty of cumin was just the dish on a cold February evening.

Like all the best world foods it was becoming clear quickly that Georgian food is not eaten in selfish individual dishes but shared from plentiful platters that are delivered to the table. The Kuchmachi followed, a robust offal mix of pork lungs, livers and hearts braised with onions, olive oil and plenty of cumin and a Soko Kecze came in the form of  tender mushrooms baked in stringy cheese. But the cheese dish that everyone seemed to be waiting for were the famous Khachapuri. Described in the menu as a cheese filled griddle-baked flat bread, I naively inquired if it was similar to our native cheese on toast. It was not!

These home-made flat breads are served warm and oozing a generous and well seasoned filling of Georgian cheese and cream. Simple food indeed, but more often than not these are the best, and I was now starting to understand why Georgian food was so popular. Chmeruli, a succulent spatch-cocked pousin baked in a heady garlic sauce was sticky and sweet, the flavour of the young chicken a fine combination with the garlic and a Chaqapuli, a spicy lamb casserole served with steaming hot flat bread shoti puree, was tender and aromatic.

But for the quality and diversity of all these dishes, it was clear that all the diners who had been to Georgia were waiting for one thing; Khinkali, the national dish of Georgia. Giant flour dumplings filled with minced pork, beef, onions and herbs. They looked unassuming when they arrived, nothing more than wrinkled, flaccid pasta sacks. But don’t judge food by its appearance. Inside is where the goodness lies and these hand-made dumplings have to be eaten very carefully.

Taking the Khinkali in the fingers of both hands, you must nibble at the edge before carefully sucking out the warm puddle of meaty juices from within before the rest of the Khinkali can then be devoured. Eating these pockets of soup is not easy. Tamara urged caution as I clumsily chewed and sucked at my first effort.

“the very best part is the meat juices inside!”

she insisted but disappointingly my juices had already made their way down my shirt. But this was the only disappointment of the evening. Discussing the merits and pitfalls of running a restaurant with Tamara over a hearty glass of Georgian red wine at the end of the evening, she insisted that she was not a chef, she was not a ‘foody’, but she knew Georgian food was good and she wanted to share it with others. And she is right. Georgian food is good. Its very good, and if you haven’t the time to go to Georgia  a visit to Tamada will not  leave you disappointed.

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