According to Sanjar Nabiev, owner of Samarkand, Fitzrovia’s newly opened, Silk Road-inspired restaurant, the most important element of plov, the aromatic dish found at every Uzbek celebration, is the rice. The best rice, he says, captures every flavour of the dish in every bite; his delivers.
When I take a spoonful of his plov I taste everything else: tart barberries, caramel-sweet carrots, lemony cumin, slow-simmered, half-melting short-rib beef and lamb. Crispy spring onion and juicy pomegranate seeds – along with a rich quail’s egg, its yolk still running thick – punctuate its earthiness. The dish’s distinctive brown colour and slightly smoky aroma, I learn, are something of a feat: a combination of the perfect sunflower, linseed and sesame oils.
There are other fine Uzbek dishes, too: a thick pumpkin and liquorice soup, crunchy with seeds; a surprisingly light Tashkent-style cold julienne veal salad. But the most important accompaniment is vodka – which comes in a teacup. After the succulent richness of plov, a shot (or two) helps make room for dessert.