The pickles and the herring 'salad'
The vegetable dumplings.
Maybe the comic creation Borat was more accurate than you think... The Kazakhstan restaurant Dastarkhan on Holloway Road looked exotic.
We sat cross-legged on special platforms covered with dark red quilts (topchan) to eat. Difficult for us Westerners with our chair culture, but excitingly novel despite the pins and needles.
The waiter looked Tibetan/Mongolian. He was very cheerful and friendly, struggling charmingly with his English.
The first course wasn't too bad; the bread basket contained an unsalted doughnut type bread which I liked and also something that looked uncommonly like Kingsmill..
"Is this Kazakhstan bread?" I asked the waiter.He giggled and shook his head. This was accompanied by aubergine salad that didn't appear to have any aubergine in it and consisted mostly of carrots. There were also 'vodka pickles'. I love pickles so I'll always order a pickle dish. I wasn't sure if these pickles were pickled in vodka or to eat with your vodka. I think the latter because I detected no vodka taste. But the tomatoes tasted as if they had been marinated in ketchup. Not as terrible as you might think.
We also asked for herring salad. They literally cut up a piece of pickled herring into pieces, sliced a potato and served it. No dressing, no mixing of ingredients, nothing.
Kazakh cuisine is not easy for vegetarians. I ordered one of three possible dishes on the menu...vegetable steamed dumplings. A plain plate with five dumplings arrived. They were stuffed with, you guessed it, carrots. At £7.50p well, that's like £1.50p a dumpling.
Bellaphon got a truly awful looking dish: some kind of flat overcooked tagliatelle 'Beshbarmak' with grey meat on it.
I met Fat Les of Bellaphon, Kake (another food blogger) and her friend Laura. By this time, faced with our orders, we'd started to find the awfulness of the food quite funny.
The service, the atmosphere, especially when it filled up with Kazakhstanis, good-looking people with slavic cheek bones, were great. I just wish they'd improve the food.