Until recently, I shamefully dismissed Holloway Road as just a place to travel to for gigs at The Garage or comedy showcases at the Hen & Chickens and the only food available was from a kebab shop or Maccy D’s on the journey home. You had to make your way to Upper Street for a restaurant worthy of a hot date or family do. Georgian restaurant Tbilisi, on Holloway Road, is the little culinary surprise that proved me wrong.
It’s easy to walk past Tbilisi and not notice. Black exteriors frame horizontal blinds that obscure what’s on the other side. It could be a soulless office from the outside yet step through the entrance and warm alluring dark reds and a smiling waitress greet you.
The combination starters are a great introduction to the richness and intricacies found in Georgian cooking. The hachapuri (cheese-filled flatbread) was comforting and provided a smooth base for delicately spiced dishes such as the beetroot puree with walnuts and the chicken liver with onion and pomegranate. There was also the lobiani which is similar to the hachapuri but filled with stewed red beans which was a great homely addition but left little room for the main course.
For the main course I ordered the tsitsila - tender spring chicken cooked in herbs and served with a plum sauce which complimented rather than overwhelmed the dish with its touch of sourness. Main dishes ordered by company included the chashushuli, a spicy beef stew with tomatoes and pickles which would be perfect for a cold winter evening minus the sluggish feel afterwards, and chakapuli - lamb cooked in a blissful union of tarragon and white wine sauce.
All of the wine on the menu is Georgian and we selected the highly recommended Napareuli - a smooth full-bodied red packed with sensual intensity. Passion in a bottle. Drivers and tee-totallers need not miss out on Georgian beverages with Borjomi sparkling water and Georgian lemonade on offer. Beer lovers are a little unfortunately stuck with the big brands that are found absolutely everywhere such as Stella Artois.
Tbilisi excels in traditional no-nonsense cooking that pulls off a combination of heartiness with subtleties that provide a pleasant surprise. Add a friendly, helpful service and you feel at home. An excellent introduction to the uninitiated of Georgian food that, to sum it up, is a perfect mingling of Europe and Asia.
Approx £65 for a meal for two that includes a combination of starters, two main courses and a bottle of wine.