579 High Road
020 8556 9602
"How do you know about Moldova?" asked the waiter, a young man from Chisinau.
We barely know a thing about Moldova, we confessed.
"But how did you hear about Moldova?" He seemed surprised we'd even heard of the country, even if we couldn't remember the name of his hometown, the capital. We raised our glasses of Ursus (Romanian, I'm afraid) to one of Europe's lesser-known lands and washed down yet another forkful of polenta.
Amurg used to market itself as a Moldovan restaurant but nobody went. These days it calls itself a Romanian restaurant and, on our visit, two other people went - a glum-looking couple silently drinking Red Bull from cans with straws. It's hardly a date restaurant. It reminded me of the bar at the airport Premier Inn.
As it wasn't Friday, when a Moldovan pop band performs live ("We just sacked the Romanian band," we were cheerily informed), entertainment came from a music channel with an unfortunate focus on R&B. On more than a couple of occasions I zoned out of our conversation about Nick Cohen, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, and ogled close-ups of thoroughly shaken female booty.
There are two Moldovan main courses on the menu and we greedily ate them both. But first we ploughed through two exemplary specimens of Romanian stodge. The Transylvanian bulz (pictured) is a lump of polenta topped with a runny fried egg and a pond of sheep's cheese, with three further squirts of fromage and some jauntily-angled bacon flaps on the side. It looked like an idiot's attempt to draw the sun. We also had the misleadingly-named "aubergine caviar", an unluxurious but moderately tasty dip served with unsightly slices of cheapo toast.
The tochitură moldovenească (Moldovan stew to any non-Romanian speakers out there), a garlicky mix of pork and spicy sausage, was served with another slab of cheesy polenta. The other dish, cabbage stuffed with minced pork, was more subtle, a rustic take on the Turkish dolma. Unsurprisingly, it came with a huge slab of cheesy polenta. We didn't have enough room to take on the Romanian doughnuts, which almost certainly come with cheesy polenta.
Before leaving, we spoke to our friendly waiter about his homeland.
"It's very poor and there isn't much to see," he said. "You shouldn't go there."
Shame. I like polenta.