Place: Iberia Georgian Restaurant
294-296 Caledonian Road
I was organising my birthday dinner and wanted to try a place that was unusual, not too spicy and which served a range of vegetarian foods. Iberia fit the bill: I’ve been curious about Georgian food for a while, and this seemed like a good start in a not too out-of-the-way place. It’s tucked away in Caledonian Road, about 15 minutes’ walk from the King’s Cross/St Pancras tube/train station; it’s not the kind of place you’d just stumble upon, and the decor is beautiful and elegant. It’s also extremely small: make a reservation.
Service: Really lovely. From making the reservation to dinner service the staff were attentive and hospitable. Our water glasses were regularly topped up (with free tap water!) and they answered questions about the food, and didn’t laugh too much at our attempts to pronounce the menu items.
If you’re ordering a mix of starters and main courses and want them all to arrive at the same time, do mention it explicitly. Ours arrived separately as the lady serving us thought the table was sharing starters, but actually a friend and I were splitting starters in lieu of a main course, which meant some people waited quite a while for their food.
Food: Delicious and unusual. I split several appetisers with a friend and had a taste of some of the mains. In general Georgian food has lots of walnuts and pomegranate; more Middle Eastern/Mediterranean than Eastern European.
The badrijiani – slices of aubergine slathered in walnut sauce – was a good, fairly well-balanced dish, although because I adore aubergine I wished the slices were a bit thicker. The flavours of creamy aubergine and rich walnut sauce went well together. Amazingly the aubergine wasn’t oily and so the addition of the walnuts didn’t make the dish too greasy.
The cicaka – marinated red pepper slices – was good, although it had that vinegary, not-quite-pickled flavour that you get from bottled, preserved peppers. It was good but not outstanding – there were plenty of other more interesting things to try.
The lobio, a bean stew, was robust – the main course was just a bigger version of the appetiser. It was quite filling and richly spiced. I usually dislike red kidney beans but these were good: extremely tender, with soft skins (not tough and leathery), and the strong flavours were warming for the cool night. (And the night was cool, which just seems ridiculously implausible right now).
There were also blini – not the Russian buckwheat pancakes served with caviar and smetana but crisp, spring-roll like cigars filled with meat. They were good, in the way that a shattering, crisp shell contrasts with the soft filling is always good, and as with all the food offered were wonderfully seasoned.
My stand-out appetiser was, perhaps surprisingly, the pkhali. I say surprisingly because it seems odd that a cold spinach dish could have been so delicious, and yet it was: fragrant and sharp with coriander, with a melting texture. It also looked beautiful, diamonds of emerald green and a scattering of jewel-like pomegranate seeds.
I also had a bite of the soko, tender mushrooms filled with melting cheese, which were delicious and addictive as cheesy mushrooms are.
Of course I had to try the khachapouri, the famous Georgian cheese bread I’ve been dying to try since reading the description thereof in Nigella Lawson’s ‘Feast’. I accidentally ordered the megruli khachapouri, which is both stuffed and filled with cheese, but a friend ordered the imeruli khachapouri, which was just stuffed. The imeruli version was much better, in my opinion, as you got the contrast of soft, caramelised bread crust (delightfully speckled) and salty, melty cheese. There was less contrast with the megruli version and it was too much like a rich pizza for me – however the people around me who tried it had no complaints!
I had a bite of ostri (beef stew), which was brightly-flavoured. Although I didn’t try the baby potatoes they looked beautiful, tiny and caramelised. I also tried some of the cabbage tolma, which were rich and meaty. The leaves were tender and delicate – it was impressive that they held the filling!
You should bear in mind however that the portions are on the small side; if you want to leave full you should order appetisers and a main, and perhaps a dessert is you’re very hungry.
You can see the menu here.
Verdict: go! try as much as possible!
Do try: the pkhali. I don’t really want to eat spinach another way again.