158 Camberwell Road
020 7277 2228
"This is like being in Dubai," observed my dinner companion, who used to sit next to me in an office in that shithole. She was right. It was like a hotel in the poor part of town: neon lights and big windows, narrow corridors and red carpets, dubious-looking cosmetics on sale from reception, and a restaurant with Russian pop music and a fake plastic lake running through it. I felt right at home.
There's Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Turkish food on the menu, but we stuck to our guns and only ordered dishes you'd find in a neighbourhood restaurant in Bishkek. This included borsok, a fried doughnut made of eggs and honey and accompanied by sour cream and hummos, and a baklajanovaya ikra, a stewed aubergine dip with tomato, onion and garlic. It was the high point of the meal.
I hoped the beshbamak would contain horse, but due to the unavailablity of such exotic meats in Camberwell Green, we had to settle for beef, which arrived boiled to the point of tastelessness and floating with pasta in a nondescript broth. The lagman, a nicely spiced stab at spaghetti bolognaise, was much more interesting.
It's fair to assume that until six months ago the majority of Londoners knew nothing about Kyrgyzstan. Almost 100 deaths in demonstrations and riots opposing Kurmanbek Bakiyev's government have put the country on the map for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps, we wondered before our visit, we would unearth a brilliant cuisine that had the potential to make Kyrgyzstan famous for something other than violence. It's highly unlikely.