“ Address: 101 Regents Park Road / Primrose Hill / London NW1 8UR / Tel: 020 7483 3765 „
Drop whatever it is you're doing; if you live in London get on the phone and bag yourself a table at Trojka, if you live outside the capital, plan your next trip! I have discovered a gem of a restaurant in North London and just have to tell everyone about it.
"Trojka" is billed as a Russian restaurant and is situated on Regents Park Road, a stone's throw from Chalk Farm tube station. I found it through Time Out's dining section and clicked through to learn more on the restaurant's own website. I phoned the restaurant on the morning of our planned visit and was able to get a table for that evening. It was probably best that we'd called in advance as Trojka was very busy all night.
The restaurant has a red façade which stands out from the other shops and restaurants. It was a dark and rainy Saturday night and from the outside Trojka looked very cosy and welcoming. On entering we were met with a wall of chatter and laughter, everyone sounded like they were having a great time and you knew instantly that it was going to be a good evening. Although they had our booking at hand, a table wasn't ready so we were asked to take a seat for a moment at a larger table until one for two people became free. We didn't have to wait long but it would have been nice to have been invited to order a drink while we were waiting.
The décor is brilliant. The walls are painted vivid red and a dark jade green. There are colourful works of art on the walls but best of all are the rows of shelves behind the bar, each one lined with a legion of brightly coloured matryoshka (the traditional Russian dolls that fit inside each other). The simple wooden chairs and tables were basic but worked well with the décor. The lighting gave an opulent feel to the place and the overall impression was one of faded Imperial grandeur that I associate with Russia.
The menu was printed on both sides of one A4 sheet and both sides had two columns of dishes so this is a really comprehensive menu for a small local restaurant. Everything was helpfully split up into sections - starters, blinis, meat, fish and vegetarian main courses, side dishes and desserts. The next thing that struck us was that the prices are very reasonable. A lamb shank dish for £8.95 in London is really quite remarkable (and that came with accompaniments!).
To start I plumped for blinis with lumpfish caviar (£4.50) while Himself chose the marinated beef (£3.70). For my main course I chose "goloubtsy" (£7.00) which came with mashed potato, while Himself chose the Chanakhi (£8,.95), a Georgian lamb and aubergine stew. We could have chosen any of the dishes on the menu: they all sounded delicious and there was an incredible variety with specialities from not just Russia but the former Soviet Republics and Eastern Europe too. There was goulasch from Hungary, Russian pierogi (a dish I associate more with Poland), coulibiak (a traditional Russian fish pie) and various stroganoffs.
The drinks list featured wines, beers and spirits (this section included many types of vodka). There was also a selection of soft drinks. The drinks were our only disappointment of the evening. The wine list included a selection of Georgian wines of which three or four could be ordered by the glass as well as by the bottle. Having been to Telavi where some of the wines listed are from, I wanted to try one of those but there was no Georgian white available that night and instead I was offered Bulgarian white, which I was perfectly satisfied with in the end. Himself found a Russian beer that he had not tried before but was presented with something quite different. When the waiter realised we could read Cyrillic script he quickly explained that they did not have the other beer but they were offering this one from Belarus instead. This wasn't a problem but it would have been nice to have been asked first.
The starters arrived within a few minutes and looked lovely. Both were presented on small white plates. The blini were just warm and a wonderful golden colour. Each one was topped with a generous mound of lumpfish caviar (the cheapest kind, tiny little black roe) and there was a decent serving of smetana (soured cream) on the side. There was a small pile of salad leaves and grated carrot as a garnish. Although there were only two blini they were bigger than I'd expected so this was really quite a decent starter. There were two thick slices of beef which had been marinated in a kind of pickling mixture and sprinkled with finely sliced onions. The meat was absolutely delicious and almost melted in the mouth.
Our main courses arrived after a reasonable wait. I liked this as I felt that we weren't being rushed along. My goloubtsy came in a deep bowl with a wide edge. Goloubtsy is a very traditional Russian dish but similar dishes can be found across Eastern Europe with slight variations. Basically, goloubtsy is minced meat (in this case chicken and veal) mixed with herbs, rice and some vegetables wrapped in cabbage leaves and cooked in a stock or steamed. My dish consisted of two of these tasty parcels, covered in a rich tomato and mushroom sauce, and a two inch high disc of lovely creamy mashed potato. In 2006 we spent just over three months traveling around the Black Sea and found that nearly everything we ate either contained or was garnished with dill. After fourteen weeks I swore I'd never eat dill again, but this splendid dish at Trojka persuaded me that enough time has passed for me to enjoy dill again.
Himself was agog when his Georgian stew arrived. When we were in Georgia he was not then a meat eater and had to listen while I extolled the virtues of Georgian lamb stews (on that occasion containing sour green plums). His bowl was slightly deeper than mine and contained a huge serving a very dark read, almost wine coloured thick broth in which was lots of very tender diced lamb, tiny potatoes and hefty chunks of aubergine. The broth was full of flavour and tasted a lot like a rich goulasch, there was certainly lots of paprika in it.
As I suffer from a nut allergy I always have to take great care when ordering a dessert so the easiest thing to do is to ask which desserts do not contain nuts. The answer was immediate "Apple Charlotte". Now, the description on the menu was that it was a Russian style apple crumble which isn't my interpretation of Apple Charlotte at all but a generous portion of apple crumble is what came along with a scoop of rich vanilla ice cream which was the slightly yellow, buttery colour I prefer to white. It was a good crumble and the spiced apple was mixed with juicy sultanas.
While all this dining was going on we were listening to the sounds of a lone guitarist who played a mixture of well known traditional Russian songs, klemzer type music and some classic pop songs (think Beatles and the like). It went down very well with the diners and everyone put down their knives and forks to sing along to "Hava nagila" which, in my opinion, is just about the greatest tune ever written. A lot of the diners appeared to be, if not regulars, certainly not first timers. There was a relaxed and informal atmosphere which I think you only get in local restaurants.
The staff were all really friendly and spoke good English. Although it was busy we always managed to catch someone when we needed something and we felt that we waited a reasonable length of time for the food to arrive and the plates to be removed.
Although the entrance is wheelchair accessible the only toilets are downstairs and the steps are quite steep. The tables are quite closely packed together which is cosy but could also be a problem for wheelchair access.
Two starters, two mains, one dessert, beers, wine and a service charge that was added to the bill (we had no reservations about accepting the service charge) came to just £32.35 which we thought was tremendous value.
I would not hesitate to recommend Trojka to anyone. The varied menu has something for everyone, ranging from hearty meaty stews to light vegetarian dishes, stodgy winter warmers and colourful salads that can be ordered as main courses if desired. When we visited there was a table of clearly well off Russian gents, young couples, family groups, an elderly lady dining alone and what looked like a group of work colleagues.
In London I there are so many places to try that I rarely visit somewhere a second time. However, I can't wait to get back to London to try some more of the brilliant dishes on offer at Trojka.
101 Regents Park Road,
Tel 020 7483 3765
Nearest tube - Chalk Farm (Northern Line)