I'll say one thing for us Brits, we're not afraid of trying new things. No other country in Europe embraces different food cultures like Britain - ask a Frenchman or Italian what their favourite food is and the answer is 100% sure to be domestic, accompanied by a derisory snort about foreign muck.
Not us, however, we keep an open mind. It is one of the many reasons I love living in the UK, and in particular London, which has an almost bewildering selection of restaurants serving every conceivable type of cuisine.
And now, we Brits can add Georgian to this ever growing list of world cuisines that populate our high streets. Of all the former member states of the Soviet Union, Georgia wins the culinary competition hands down and is invariably credited with the best cooking. Things come to a head during a Georgian feast, or Supra, when a huge assortments of dishes are prepared and consumed over a period of 4-6 hours, accompanied by the tamada (toastmaster) holding court over the proceeding. Add into the mix a copious amount of wine and you have the recipe for an enduring love affair. I was already hooked by the idea, and I had yet to actually sample Georgian cuisine.
Luckily for me, Georgian restaurants have been springing up in London with growing frequency over the last few years, North London's Tamada in 2011, Iberia and Little Georgia in 2010. Colchis, which can be found close to Notting Hill, is the latest addition to the Georgian club. Not being a connoisseur of Georgian food, my curiosity drove me to visit Colchis in March to see what was on offer. So the question is - was it any good?
Things certainly started on a high note; Colchis' snazzy, softly lit chrome bar area encourages diners to relax before being stuffed full of traditional Georgian specialities. They offer a great selection of Georgian spirits, a fair smattering of gins, whiskeys etc and of course, Georgian wine by the glass. I plumped for Champagne - heretical I know, but a recent visit to the region had got me all fired up.
After a relaxing drink, our charming Italian waitress led us through to an elegant, if slightly austere dining room. The restaurant had already scored top-marks for the friendliness of the staff and the relaxed atmosphere, this is definitely not the type of place that insists you leave after two hours, even if the place was full. It's just a shame then that Colchis is a bit off the beaten track, it about a 15-20 minutes walk from the nearest tube, which doesn't encourage casual, on-the-spot dining. Maybe that explains why we pretty much had the room to ourselves that evening.
Our waitress helped us navigate the traditional menu and we were wowed by the fantastic selection of mouth-watering starters. Georgian cuisine encompasses an impressive variety of dishes, enriched with herbs and spices, to create a balanced mosaic of flavours where the spice enhances, rather than smothers the food. Each region of Georgia offers a distinct culinary tradition, so in fact thinking of Georgian cuisine as one homogeneous entity is a bit unfair really. Apparently, the Megrelian and Imeretian provinces are the leaders in Georgian food.
We were certainly won over by Khachapuri (pillow-soft cheese-filled leavened bread), Lobio mchadit, (a kidney bean stew) and Satsivi, a moerish bowl of chicken breast pieces in a walnut sauce. The Ajapsandali was a delicious stew of aubergine, potatoes, tomatoes and peppers - we fought over the remains!
Not forgetting the essential helping of Dumplings, a dish at which Georgians excel. Our favourite was the gnocchi-like dumplings, which contained a plethora of vegetable flavours including spinach, leek, beetroot and pumpkin.
The starters were almost a meal in themselves, but we soldiered on after greedily devouring the appetisers to a very succulent Rib Eye Streak, while my companion fancied the mixed shashlik kebabs. The main courses were pleasant, if unspectacular, but then maybe that was my fault for playing it safe and not ordering a Georgian speciality. Next time I won't make that mistake.
Absolutely no room for dessert, but we somehow devoured the chocolate fondant and cheese-cake, not typically Georgian but they were divine. The wine list also merits a mention, Colchis has an amazing wine-list of over 250 bottles, although strangely few Georgian examples are available, a bit unpatriotic I felt. We ordered a selection of Georgian whites and reds by the glass, the latter being preferable to the whites. Try a bottle of the 2005 Orovela - Saperavi for a real treat.
Colchis, I'm happy to say, gets many things right and I would gladly return if I were in the neighbourhood. The location is a bit off the beaten track and the atmosphere was a trifle lacking, but Colchis did its job with aplomb - I'm now a convert to the pleasures of khachapuri, Satsivi and dumplings. Although I have yet to see many Georgian restaurants outside the capital, the rest of the UK tends to follow London's lead with food trends, and I'm sure Leeds, Bristol and Manchester will have their share of Georgian eateries opening up in months to come.
After all, there has to be room for more than Pasta, Dim sum and Onion Bhajis, n'est pas?
Colchis 39 Chepstow Place, W2, London