I wanted Georgian food – ended up with the best cocktail ever
Review of Gogi, Georgian restaurant in Kiev
The USSR, just like Yugoslavia, feels a like distant and fogged memory to those who haven't lived in it. Like a mix & match of several countries - many of which are now called something-stan - once part of the same political entity and now independent with many common traits and some virtually significant differences between them.
Kiev, the capital city of the second largest country in Europe, is teeming with Georgian restaurants, and it took my rusty mind a second to realize that's because both Georgia and Ukraine were part of the Soviet Union.
Fans of The Grand Tour may remember when Clarkson said that Georgia invented wine. It's true, but you wouldn't know just by looking at the menu at GOGI, Georgian restaurant in the heart of Kiev, because the wine list is expected and respectable, but not what you'd call stellar. The cocktails, however, are indeed spectacular. I'll talk about that in a second.
I've got it into my head that I want to learn Serbian, and indeed I am - slowly and painfully - making progress, but the little Serbian I know is useless here, not because these two languages are different, they're actually quite similar*, but mainly because Ukraine only uses the Cyrillic script, and I still haven't learnt how to master that. So I immediately give up and the waitress, who took about 5 millionth of a second to understand I'm not a local, brings me the menu in English.
I've been told this means "every time you eat meat without wine, a Georgian man cries"
Now I'm gonna say something that's gonna make me sound like a bit of a douche, but I'd rather be honest. I don't like asking for 'today's special', and I don't tell waitresses/waiters that I 'trust them with my order', because I don't. Generally speaking, I know what I like and I know what I don't, so I'd rather take an extra second studying the menu, than having them bring me something I may not like.
I can eat everything but I'm no fan of soups. "I'd like something with meat, and something with eggs," I said. She says I have to try something called Khinkali, traditional Tblisi dumplings with spiced meat and herbs and "would you like some salad?" I'm tempted to say no but then she says that it comes with nuts and peanuts and I can't say no to that.
The salad is, well, a salad. Fresh, tasty, and comes with crushed peanuts so I can't complain. Khinkali, on the other hand, aren't predictable at all. First of all they look like hats, chef hats to be specific. Secondly, as I'm about to use my fork and knife - as you do - I receive a rebuke from the waitress who says I'm doing it all wrong.
"No no," she says. "You're supposed to take a small bite, drink the boiled water that comes out and then eat it with your hands." What do you mean, "boiled water?" - she says they're boiled and some of the water remains inside the dumplings and you're supposed to drink it out of the Khinkali before you eat the Khinkali itself, which, by the way, is really rather good. Mine is made with spiced beef, garlic and herbs and kinda reminds of traditional Chinese dumplings. And that's because it is, technically, a Chinese dish. It was apparently brought to Georgia during the Mongolian rule. When the Mongols left, in 1236, Georgians decided they liked dumplings and spent the next 900-odd years perfecting their own recipes.
Having had my salad and my Khinkali, I'm more than ready to call it a day and ask for the bill but the waitress says I should try Khachapuri. "You said you like eggs," she says. "So you have to try Kachapuri." Okay. Kachapuri is essentially cheese-filled bread with some herbs and an egg on top of it. You break the egg and stir it together with the cheese. And what you get is a high-calorie, delicious dish.
But the best thing about Gogi, by a Ukrainian country mile, is the Pistachio Punch. The best cocktail I’ve ever had.
The cocktail list is interesting. None of the cocktails here sound particularly familiar or common. The Batumi Sunset looks tempting and so does the Pistachio Punch. So I had both. Pistachio Punch is made with pistachio syrup, spiced rum, Georgian white wine and pineapple juice and it tasted like booze-enhanced liquid pistachio. As drinkable as ice cold Coke when you’re thirsty and just as juicy as homemade orange juice.
The Batumi Sunset is presumably designed to be enjoyed at sunset, in Batumi, a seaside resort on the shores of the Black Sea. But this is Kiev, a bustling city, so I’m going to start with its most interesting ingredient: svan salt (short for Svanetian), a traditional Georgian salt mix made with dried coriander seeds, blue fenugreek, garlic and salt.
Powdered sugar is added to contrast the pungent spicy sensation of svan salt (and ginger) along with mango juice and a drop of lemon juice. And then you add Chacha, a grappa-style Georgian pomace brandy that’s so strong you’ll probably forget you even had a Batumi Sunset.
I also tried it separately.
The bill, including gratuities, came at 513 Ukrainian Hryvnia, equivalent to around £13.5. I love Eastern Europe.
Have you ever tried Georgian cuisine?
*as a native Italian and an English speaker, I find Ukrainian more difficult than Serbian, mostly because it incorporates a lot of sounds (especially when way too many consonants are involved) that are unfamiliar and unnatural to most of us