Ultra-fusion at Osh, Knightsbridge

The only thing I know about Uzbek cuisine is that the last restaurant that tried it in London failed miserably and closed within six months.

Now someone else is giving it a go, in Knightsbridge of all places. The Russian owners apparently already own a successful sister restaurant in Dubai, so perhaps they’re sticking to what they know.

The menu at Osh, which I perused with verbena-scented cocktail in hand, reads like the culinary equivalent of crazy paving. It’s a sharing jobby (and that day I was sharing with Colleen over at Blonde Across The Pond), but there are small plates, large plates, middle-sized plates, cold plates, salad plates. Plates galore. And the food – actually billed as ‘Uzbek and Central Asian’, presumably to give the executive chef a bit more wriggle-room in a cuisine that relies heavily on the relatively unfashionable mutton and horsemeat – draws on ingredients from all over the shop. It’s more ultra-fusion than Uzbek.

For instance, the dark and broodingly delicious ‘surmi rolls’ were parcels of cabbage stuffed with rabbit and finished with shaved truffle. Cabbage rolls can be found all over Europe as well as in Iran, West Asia and some parts of China, but the only place to call them that is Bulgaria, and the rabbit and truffle filling, of course, sounds more Italian than anything else. But they were utterly fabulous and I’ve never been one for putting authenticity above actual tastiness, so who cares where they’re from?

Other dishes of unknown heritage included a bouncy aubergine, coriander and feta salad (£8.70), crispy little king prawn bites (£10.80), the kind you could eat your own weight in if left to your own devices, and a dish of impossibly red plum tomatoes (£4.80), marinaded for 24 hours with sushi ginger, which gave them a unique piquancy. Imagine the tangiest, zippiest salsa of your life, condensed into little marble-sized flavour bombs, and you’re there. I’d never had anything like it.

There was also a variety of shashlik on offer, marinated cubes of skewered meat found everywhere across Eastern Europe and Central Asian, cooked on an open fire. (We had the duck with lemongrass and ginger, and it was faultless, and there was also chicken, lamb, beef sea bass and liver.)

But there were also dishes that seemed to take their inspiration from other times as well as other places, like the mysterious ‘crab purse’ (£8.60). At first glance it looked like some re-imagined eighties dinner party horror, like a prawn cocktail that had read a few improving books and now reckoned itself a Billy Big Bollocks. I was fully prepared to hate it. But the avocado halves filled with avocado puree and crab meat were in fact a perfect exercise in creaminess and delicacy, and especially lovely after the pumping flavours of the tomatoes.

(They have got to stop calling it a ‘crab purse’ though. It sounds like an obscene Shakespearian euphemism.)

Ironically, the dish that let the side down a bit was the national dish of Uzbekistan, plov. It’s very similar to pilaf: meat – usually lamb or mutton – with spiced rice, carrots, peppers and garlic. Not especially pretty, but simple and filling. It wasn’t bad as such, just a little rustic compared to the other, more sophisticated dishes on offer. Most of it ended up being taken home and being demolished by Mike for breakfast the next day (I must say, it’s one of those dishes that seems to improve after a stint in the fridge).

Miso-glazed Chilean sea bass should have been the pièce de résistance, especially at £26.60, but it was heartbreakingly overcooked, a little dry, and lacking any of that sticky-sweet, umami mwah-mwah-mwah factor that makes anything miso-glazed properly such a treat, and the advertised ginger was missing too. I will allow that the accompanying sauce, made from the distinctly tangy, clementiney, orangey Uzbek lemons, was bloody brilliant, so if they get the fish right they’re onto a bobby-dazzler. But, when I went, I found myself thinking wistfully about that little bowl of tomatoes we had to start, now long-gone. After all, for that money I could be positively buried in the things.

We left with a large Tupperware of leftover plov, feeling very full but really none the wiser as what constituted ‘authentic’ Uzbek cuisine, especially after a slab of (fantastic) homemade honey and walnut cake and a plate of Polish angel wings (shards of deep-fried pastry dusted with powdered sugar). But I can say it was for the most part authentically tasty, so maybe that’s enough.

Osh, 14-15 Beauchamp Place, Knightsbridge, London, SW3 1NQ.

Curious London was invited to review.

Author: Emily Gibson

Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.