Marani is a lot like my grandmother. No, she’s not Georgian, or even a big fan of Georgian cuisine, in fact she probably couldn’t even tell you where Georgia is, and unlike me, she isn’t likely to whip out her phone for a quick Google. Former USSR, next to Turkey in case you’re wondering. But like Marani, my grandmother shows love through food and pays scant regard to how much cheesy garlicky goodness goes into things, as long as they’re tasty and nourishing, she’s happy.
So too it seems with Georgian food. I’m here with the lovely folk at Zomato & fantastic fellow foodie bloggers, here to learn all about Georgian cuisine and try out their offerings. .
The room is grown-up pretty, a tribute to all things Georgian, lovingly handcrafted by Georgian artists, no detail left uncovered. In the semi-private room that we’re in, portraits of the owners ancestors line the wall – in one portrait, the man wearing the traditional Georgian outfit that hangs on the wall is the owner’s grandfather. There’s a sense of family here that goes beyond soft furnishings.
We start proceedings with warm, freshly baked bread straight from the kitchen’s clay oven, some simple Georgian salad of Tomato, cucumber and walnuts, Elarji & Bazhe – polenta and cheese balls with an almond & garlic dipping sauce. Polenta isn’t the rabbit food that I may previously have thought of it as, it’s creamy and soft and when accompanied by cheese and the garlic laced almond dipping sauce, isn’t exactly healthy either.
Chkmeruli is the grilled chicken bathed in a garlic and cream sauce and although I’ve hit my garlic quota in these two short courses alone, I still can’t stop myself dipping hunks of fresh bread into that sauce. Finger lickin’ good.
Khinkali and khachapuri are two Georgian specialities and we’re lucky, because the chefs are treating us to a private masterclass. Khinkali making is first on the agenda and we all get a chance to try our hand at rolling the fiddly little buggers into beautifully formed dumplings – not quite as easy as it looks! The meat in them releases liquid when cooked so we’re advised to turn them over, using the little top as a handle, freshly ground pepper on top and bite in, sucking the broth in as we eat. Slurping indelicately, these are the best dumplings I have ever had.
The next thing we learn to make is Ajaruli bread – essentially a boat of dough with a dense centre of cheese (half mozarella, half feta) and with a egg baked into the top. The chefs tell us that that in Georgia, couples traditionally share these, tearing off bread from either side of the boat and dunking into the molten cheese & egg combination. Again, it’s harder than it looks to make the little boat and as you can see from my effort below, it’s not really very boat shaped at all.
Khachapuri is our final lesson in baking and this is a bit more straightforward – and yep, you guessed it, more cheese with bread! This is more heavenly than just described though, there’s a hint of garlic in here that isn’t overpowering at all but lends a wonderful heady aroma to the freshly baked bread.
Stuffed to the brim with more cheese and bread that can conceivably be good for me, it is with some relief that dessert comes heading our way. The delicate Matsoni, a heavy sort of yoghurt with walnut preserve is not too rich or sweet. I’m not a big fan of the Napoleon Mille feuille puff cake sandwiched with light cream, I feel it doesn’t have enough of a flavour punch for me, but the Snickers cake – honey with walnuts and custard (Nothing like it’s chocolate bar name) is not as sweet as the name suggests but surprisingly light and given what has come before, a great way to end the meal.
It’s all to easy to convince me to linger on with a glass of red and chat to the staff, so passionate about where they come from and bringing their food and a bit of their culture to the streets of London,
I’ve already started investigating flights to see for myself. And also to eat vast quantities of cheese and bread.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Zomato, but in no way compelled to say nice things about Marani, dinner with them was similar to a meal with my grandmother, happiest when feeding her family with all manner of fattening things.