london 1520


East Dulwich, SE22

At the heart of Lordship Lane, that chic street of artisan cheesemongers and indie gift shops that runs through the core of East Dulwich, you can find a petite Georgian restaurant called Kartuli. The entire road is seemingly lifted from a Richard Curtis film and Kartuli’s presence complements this vision perfectly. The inside of Kartuli is a forest of greenhouse plants that practically spills out of the front door. Whenever I have walked past this verdant hub, with its green wooden beams, green canopy and even greener restaurant sign, whatever time of day, I have found it humming with activity and warmth: this place is immensely inviting and I wanted in.

So, on the evening that I finally become a Kartuli diner, I am not surprised to find that the lovely front room I’ve been yearning to step inside is entirely full. Instead, we are directed to a conservatory-style room at the very back of the restaurant, whose rug-adorned walls, lanterns and treasure trove of colourful, curious trinkets on every surface resemble Aladdin’s cave. This room is charming in its own snug way, and just as full of people. We are met by a very friendly waiter, who walks us through the menu and recommends that we begin with some Georgian wine. We order the house red, which is tasty and fruity and comes served in great flagon-like wine glasses.

The friendly service, warm atmosphere and gluggable wine only add to Kartuli’s overall charm

At our waiter’s recommendation, we share a meze plate for two that includes some Georgian staples. Soft aubergine slices are rolled around a delightful walnut paste and skewered; these are served alongside a selection of pkhali (like chunky dips) comprising hummus-like spiced pinto beans crushed with ground walnuts, carrots with walnuts, coriander, dill, garlic and Georgian spices, beetroot blended  with the walnut and spice mix, and spinach pkhali reminiscent of a very savoury, garlicky, walnut-spiked saag. All these generous blobs of pkhali are served alongside slices of warm Khachapuri, which is slightly sweet, pita-style bread stuffed with cheese. Each of the pkhali is spiced and seasoned well, and the melty, springy bread is a worthy vehicle for some serious mopping.

For mains, my sister and I order the shkmeruli to share, which is a deep dish filled with roasted poussin in a luscious, buttery and powerfully garlic sauce. This is crowned with boiled potatoes that have absorbed the liquid, and topped with dill. The sauce strongly resembles a Marinière, and its creamy base is good enough to drink. We couldn’t leave without sampling the famous meat-stuffed Georgian twisted khinkali dumplings which were a serious highlight of the meal. Doughy, thick, squishy and filled to the brim with highly seasoned meat and broth, these make bao buns look lightweight. Georgian dumplings are the size of your fist and have a twisted knot of dough at the top where the pleats meet, called a kudi, which serves as a little handle and makes for easy munching. Traditionally, this tougher kudi is not supposed to be eaten, but is discarded to the side of the plate so that those eating can count how many dumplings they have consumed.

After a wonderfully satisfying meal laced with garlic, spices and unctuous cheesy bread, we roll ourselves home and reflect on how delightful the evening has been. Perfect for sharing with a loved one, a dinner at Kartuli feels like a warm hug, with its deeply flavoursome and comforting dishes. The friendly service, warm atmosphere and gluggable wine only add to Kartuli’s overall charm. When I return (and I will return, soon) I am going to challenge myself and whoever will join me to a dumpling-off, counting in kudis.

Food & Drink46
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65 Lordship Lane
East Dulwich
SE22 8EP

March 2024


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