I am always on the look out for good for from Eastern Europe, and Baltic caught my attention after seeing its colourful chef Silvena Rowe on Saturday Kitchen.
On a blistery mid-week night we were surprised to find the large but somehow cavern-like restaurant fully booked, but were happy to sample the snacks on offer in the less formal bar with stylish dark tables and chairs.
The beer selection was uninspiring and larger-based (3.00 for a bottle of Estonian Viru) but the food started off well, with some black rye bread. The 'large' selection of blinis (8.50) was portioned more to Western tapas standards, featuring just three plump mini-pancakes. But they tasted good, as did the accompanying smoked salmon and salty herrings. The third topping, the aubergine and mushroom mousse was a bit bland. We assumed it to be jazzing up what the Russians call 'aubergine caviar' (a bit like baba ganoush) but some classics are best untampered. The smoked haddock fishcakes with dill mayonnaise (5.50) were delicate in size and texture but more at home in an English gastropub than in Eastern Europe. The service was OK, The biggest disappointment though was the khachapuri (or kczapuri as they spell it) -- at its prime a glorious Georgian cheese bread. Here it was more like slightly cheesy slices of something pitta-like (4.90). When it comes to cheese, I find it hard to forgive failings.
I guess it all comes down to the fact that food from the region is in its essence hearty, stodgy, large-portioned kind of fare, and none the worse for it. But it does not lend itself easily to modernisation or the world of trendy bars.
Still, the place had a nice atmosphere and it would be worth coming back to Baltic for the occasional live jazz. As for khachapuri, you can get a great one at Mimino in Kensington.
Baltic, 78 Blackfriars Road, SE1 8HA; Tel. 0207 928 1111; Tube: Southwark; www.balticrestaurant.co.uk
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