13 October 2006
74 Blackfriars Road
(Corner of The Cut)
London SE1 8HA
Tel: 020 7928 1111
A feast from the East
LONDON'S CULINARY culture is about as diverse as its population. There seems to be a kitchen serving up just about every national dish, and authentic Eastern European has not been left off the menu.
The Baltic carte reads like a culinary Lonely Planet. The best of Eastern European fare has been gathered from Poland to Scandinavia and even the far reaches of Siberia. This melange of meals, rather than concentrating on dishes from just one of the many countries, is a great way to keep the British palate interested. Having personally lived on the Baltic coast, I learnt first hand that some of the peculiarly unique dishes can get lost in translation.
What does translate are the heart-warming stews and chunky meat dishes that share the menu with around 40 vodkas. The diverse range of serious spirits is enough to keep the coolest contender warm throughout winter.
In Eastern Europe, vodka is an important business and Baltic is on top of the game. The real way to drink vodka is straight - rather than tainted with juices or soft drinks - but not all of us have the head, or stomach, for it. Infusions are the way to go and Baltic has a variety of home grown infusions (£2.75).
Of course the menu is not the only suggestion of Baltic or Nordic states. Inside Baltic the interior reflects the minimalist lines and sleek modern designs best known in Scandinavian architecture. On entry, the dark trendy bar contrasts with the large open-space dining room. With exposed beams and high-pitched sky-lit ceiling, it gives the diner the impression of eating in a stylish Swedish barn.
From the moment we settled into our seats, the vibrant waitresses started their continual loop, handing out a variety of fresh breads from a farmer's basket. Our personal waitress, who hailed from Belarus, never let us go without.
The atmosphere within was buzzing, the bar was cluttered with young professionals and the dining room filled surprisingly fast with hungry diners.
Its proximity to both the recently reopened Young and Old Vics means that Baltic is well suited to the pre and post theatre crowds. The specialised theatre menu is just as convenient at £11.50 for two courses and £13.50 for three.
Perhaps fittingly, the evening I dined in at Baltic was the first London day with a real nip in the air so it was just the right temperature to dine in on hearty soups and comfort food. Aiming for something unique, I went for the beetroot soup (£4.50). The thought of lonely beetroot puree intrigued me but when it arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to taste the rare combination of warm shredded beetroot mixed with tangy sour cream.
My cousin ordered the Siberian pelmeni dumplings filled with veal and pork (£6.50) and adored her choice of starter so much she spoiled herself for her char-grilled leg of lamb main. The food at Baltic is wholesome in every sense. Most starters seem to fill you, so slowly but surely is the best way forward. Of course if you have tickets to see Kevin Spacey tread the Old Vic boards or want to catch the new Tobias and the Angel at the Young Vic, then ordering lightly might be the best solution.
The main portions are big too, but varied enough that all appetites are covered except vegetarians are quite limited for choice. A lot of the options are heavily meat-based like braised mutton (£15.50) and haunch of venison (£16.50), but there are some lighter fish dishes including the roast hake with Jerusalem artichokes, carrots and broad beans (£16.50).
After dinner there was not much room for movement but it was impossible to pass up the sour cherry crème brulée (£5.00). Between the two of us we found one last spot for possibly the creamiest crème brulée I've ever sunk my spoon into.
FOOD (1-5) 3.5
AMBIENCE (1-5) 4
VALUE FOR MONEY (1-5) 3.5
DISABLED ACCESS YES
DISABLED TOILET YES
PRE BOOKING YES
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