It's been a while but the journey continues. Last Wednesday I finally made it to an Armenian joint in Lancaster Gate, 'Erebuni'. I say Armenian, it's owned by Armenians, Edward and Nona Torosiants. Erebuni is more of a Pan-Ex-Soviet restaurant with an extensive menu featuring the CCCP's finest, from the Ukraine to Uzbekistan. Russia dominates proceedings but there are a few Armenian specialities to choose from.
Buried away (like a bunker) below the London Guards Hotel in a quiet residential square just off Hyde Park you'd have no idea it existed, the only indication is a small sign in the hotel reception. Apparently it doubles up as the hotel's restaurant, borscht by night and a full English in the morning, perfect if you've ever dreamt of vodka on your cornflakes. Going down the stairs to Erebuni is a bizarre experience as you descend from what looks like a purely functional flophouse into quite a lavish dining room, decked out in red tablecloths and choc a Eastern Bloc with kitsch.
The visit coincided with a joint Armenian/Georgian birthday party, our arrival rudely interrupting a heartfelt speech about brotherhood between the two nations. Having snuck us to our table the pretty Lithuanian waitress gave us the menus and a buzzer (pictured above), it was like something straight out of a Kiev gentleman's club for when you wanted her to Go-Go get you something. Once we'd plucked up the courage to use it we ordered a selection of the Armenian dishes and a round of vodka and Baltikas (no Armenian beer unfortunately).
Starters included Sekhtorats (fried aubergines with garlic and parsley), Emanbajady (a relish of aubergine, tomatoes, peppers and onion), Basturma (cured beef) and Dolmas. For mains, Shashlyk (lamb shish kebab), Chicken Tapaka (baked butterflied baby chicken with roast potatoes) and Chanaky (in fact Georgian, a tomato based lamb stew baked with potatoes in a clay pot).
Everything was pretty good, the aubergine nicely caramelised, the emanbajady rich and pleasantly spicy. Basturma was interesting but not as complex and beefy as I'd expected, it's maybe to Armenian tastes not to cure it for too long. The dolmas were far bettter than any Greek offering I've tried, bursting with minced lamb and wrapped in fresh tasting vineleaves without the usual acidity. Shashlyk was simply a shish kebab but it was succulent, had that essential charcoal sweetness and was served with fresh lavash bread. The roast chicken was beautifully moist with crisp potatoes and the Chanaky lamb stew suitably hearty (though overpowered a bit by tomato).
It was all very well cooked but there were no new tastes, some of the Russian options on the menu seemed a lot more exciting. I was disappointed because from what I've read Armenian cuisine is vast and varied. The offerings at Erebuni seem like safe bets, they don't serve the national dish for example, 'Harissa' a porridge of wheat and chicken. The Russian focus is understandable given that it's an area of West London full of ex-pats.
In terms of hospitality and atmosphere it was fantastic, with each chink of glasses the party next to us got louder and guests soon accompanied the keyboardist and mournful Armenian flute in songs which cried a thousand tears. Edward the host was obliging with the vodka, offering us a couple of complimentary rounds.
Erebuni's not cheap, particularly for the simple fayre we had. It's well worth a visit though for the whole Eastern experience (especially the buzzer). In the few other reviews I've seen people rave about the Russian food, seemingly it's up there with the best in London.
Erebuni, London Guards Hotel, 36-37 Lancaster Gate, W2 3NA
Tel:020 7402 6067