In Baku’s Swiss Utopia

Paul’s Bar Steak House & Rock Bar with Beer Garden, Zagarpalan Street/Nigar Rafibeyli Street, Baku.
www.pauls-baku.com  Tel.: 055 520 0092
Paul’s is, quite simply, an institution in Baku. Absolutely everybody I have come across here knows it well and most assert enthusiastically that it serves the very best steaks in town. Opened in 2003, it is owned and run in partnership by a German and a German Swiss, two men with larger than life personalities (one of whom is large in girth too!) and about whom legends seem to abound. A check on Tripadvisor puts you pretty much in the picture: Out of around 140 reviews, the vast majority (and by vast, I mean over 80%!)  are full of praise for the place and it gets excellent or very good ratings. The few dissenters speak darkly of attitude problems, of point blank refusals to meet their requests and of being asked to leave and never to come back. Read between their lines and you can almost see their shocked and stunned expressions! Yup, there’s no prissy messing around here , they call a steak a steak at Paul’s, and if you don’t like what they do or how they do it, well, you can take a running jump!
On the very day of my most recent visit to Paul’s, I came across a BBC Travel article entitled ‘In Swiss Utopia, the Devil dwelled’ which begins like this: ‘Uri is one of Switzerland’s most scenic cantons – yet it remains one of the country’s least visited. A jagged wall of 2,000m-tall Urner Alps blocks it from neighbouring member states, and few tourists know what lies on the other side: a paradise of inky and rare Alpine orchids, swimmable cobalt alpsees (Alpine lakes) and unfettered views of alpenglühen (the pink glow that illuminates the mountain tops in morning and evening). Not to mention the snow-capped peaks, bell-clad cows and open-air cable cars of Swiss fantasies.It is unsurprising, perhaps, that in many ways this is the birthplace of Switzerland.’
Swiss Mountain Chalet, Image taken from BBC Website
Swiss Mountain Chalet, Image taken from BBC Website

Now I have no idea whether the Swiss German owner of Paul’s is from the canton Uri or elsewhere or, indeed, where the German owner hails from exactly but their restaurant, with its red gingham curtains, its small paned chalet style windows and its rustic pine furniture could be straight out of Johanna Spyri’s ‘Heidi’. It could pass for Grandfather’s favourite watering hole and you almost expect to see a blonde Lederhosen clad goatherd bursting in from the Baku streets at full yodel. It’s highly incongruous, of course, but it works just fine! In fact, it’s actually quite genius: you think you are in Baku but all of a sudden you are transported into an alpine environment where the beers flow and you get served a ‘deftig’  (substantial and savoury) meal.

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The menu is short and like everything else here, no nonsense. If you want something fancy pants, you’re at the wrong address. And it’s meaty. There’s fillet steak and ribeye steak, pepper steak and German sausage, burgers, ribs and chicken skewers, foil baked potatoes, potato salad or very good chips,a huge tomato and onion salad, coleslaw, just to name a few, and all topped off by Paul’s own brand steak sauce. All the meat is of excellent quality and the dishes are well presented but without fuss. Of course, there’s German beer and spirits and, for the wine drinkers,  some mediocre but acceptable wine.

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The icing on the cake is the leafy beer garden. There can’t be many other places in Baku as conducive to putting away a few jars in the company of friends on a warm moonlit night.I had a 250g fillet steak with a baked potato and a tomato salad with two glasses of wine and my bill came to AZN30. The staff and management, in case you are wondering, were jovial and friendly and things ran like Swiss clockwork.

Table reservations are essential!