Culinarium - A Culinary Chameleon

That looks like an interesting place. These were the words from my husband as our car sped through the wet, dark Tbilisi fall evening; lights reflecting in murky puddles as I craned my neck to see what he was talking about. Little did I know this was Culinarium, and the restaurant was busy because it was their launch party. The grapevine had been buzzing for a couple of weeks about the refurbishment of Tekuna Gachechiladze’s restaurant and with a visit from chef, Ben Ford (Harrison Ford’s son), I was more than intrigued to give it a try.

Homework done, menu downloaded, this is not your typical Georgian food, but influences from several cultures, a bit like Georgia herself. Six courses featuring: catfish cerviche, green salad with pear and blue cheese, ravioli with burnt butter, lemon rind and walnut sauce, wild mushrooms sporting a quince and citrus sauce. I was sold even before I got to the main of roast pork with crispy skin on prune purée and pomegranate seeds. The crowning glory (apart from a great selection of wines) was the roast chestnut ice cream. All of which I wanted to eat.

Culinarium is an airy space with a real European/Scandinavian feel; a communal table dominates the room and the kitchen is open, so nowhere to hide! All the staff speak good English and explained that in order for the tasting menu to be served, the restaurant needed to fill the central table of sixteen covers. I took a gamble, with luck, I’d be eating some of the dishes featured. Failing that, it would be the Dim Sum Sunday Menu. Either way, I was game.

We arrived at 7pm and unfortunately, the bookings were a bit shy - dim sum it was. Sommelier, Brian Stapleton took us under his wing. Having flown in from San Francisco the week before, his first few days were spent at the Pheasant’s Tears vineyard (who are involved in several restaurants in Georgia including Culinarium); he was comfortable with his surroundings, knew his Georgian wines and was affable company.

As with the nature of the beast and new openings, there are bound to be a few gremlins in the works. A steamer problem meant no dumpling, a shame, but not a deal breaker. We jumped at the suckling Beijing pig and, as for the rest, we left that up to the kitchen, and Brian’s discretion regarding what we drank.

While we waited for our food, Brian talked through the wine list. I expressed interest in amber wine, and no sooner had I opened my mouth, a glass was poured for us to try. From the color, one would expect it to be viscous, sticky, rich and sweet. Complete opposite! Bone dry, full of tannins - it was either love at first sip or hate. Not a huge fan of tannins, I adored it! A perfect foil for our first dish of wok-fried vegetables and duck. This was definitely an umami dish - well-cooked duck, a deeply savory sauce with a hint of sweetness and vegetables that retained some crunch. Next up was the suckling pig, served with pancakes, scallions and cucumber, I could’ve eaten the whole piglet. Succulent flesh, veneer thin, über crispy skin all wrapped up in its own little pancake blanket. As we licked the remnants of sauce from our fingers, panko-crusted prawns appeared, and were polished off just as quickly, along with a glass of Atenuri white. Up next, udon noodles with chicken, accompanied by a glass of fig black Saperavi. The meat in its glossy sauce wasn’t swamped by the wine; again accomplished cooking and great drink choices.

Before jumping in for dessert, Brian suggested that we let the sous chef have free range with our final savory course. Another duck dish, this time without the Asian influences. Cooked the bloody side of pink, it came with quince puree. The smile on the chef’s face as the plate was placed in front of us was mirrored by our own grins. The fruit cut through and complemented the duck perfectly.

We just about managed dessert - buffalo yoghurt panna cotta. Creamy and unctuous but not quite set enough for my taste; I like this pudding with a gentle wobble.

Chef Tekuna Gachechiladze’s ability to switch from one cooking style to another like a culinary chameleon is what Culinarium is about - innovative, polished and accomplished, willing to push the boundaries. Certainly not typical Georgian food, but just as delicious!

1/17 Lermontov Street

Tbilisi 0105 Georgia

Tel: +995 32 2 43 01 03

Open: Wed-Sun from 13:00-23:30

Lea Harris

19 November 2015 22:12