Where the King meets La Lollo

Scalini, 2 Bakhikanov Street, Baku.   www.scalini.az   Tel.: 012 598 2850

The guy ‘works down the chip shop swears he’s Elvis’ has now clearly moved jobs and works at Scalini in Baku. Or, since the late great Kirsty MacColl (whose best known song is ‘Fairytale of New York’, together with the Pogues) sang this song in 1981, maybe the handsome Elvis lookalike waiter at Scalini is the chip shop guy’s son. Either way, it seemed that we were served by the King, no less! What a shock of fantastic hair! And charming and attentive he was too. Anyway, I digress.

Scalini is unashamedly old fashioned. It has the air of a 1950s suburban Italian restaurant on the outskirts of somewhere like Bologna perhaps, with arts & crafts type wooden furniture and black and white photos and film posters on the walls, which being painted yellow, give a kind of cosy, slightly decadent nicotine stained vibe to the place, heightening the sense of having walked on to a film set where Gina Lollobrigida might appear at any minute. In fact, Scalini was established in 1998 and has enjoyed the reputation of being one of Baku’s best restaurants ever since.

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Like the surroundings, the menu is unpretentious, featuring Italian classics with plenty of homemade antipasti, pasta, pizza, fish and meat dishes. We tried one of my personal favourites, zucchini fritti, as a starter. They were nicely juicy and crispy at the same time, partly due to the fact, perhaps, that I had asked for the tomato sauce on the side rather than all over the zucchini. I was sorely tempted by the pasta with lobster but chose instead my ultimate Italian restaurant test, Spaghetti Aglio e Olio. This is such a simple dish but can so easily be mismanaged with too much oil or too little, not enough chilli and garlic or too much of either. In this instance, it was very well executed and just right. My companion ( the lovely husband, who else?!) opted for seafood spaghetti which was also solidly good and tasty and much to his liking. For pudding we shared a cheesecake and although it didn’t look like much, it tasted wonderful and I could easily have had a second helping!

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Scalini means ‘steps’ in Italian. It would be an exaggeration to say that our meal here was a stairway to heaven but it was a very enjoyable experience indeed and one to be repeated at the earliest opportunity. The relaxed easy atmosphere, helpful and efficient service and solidly good unfussy Italian food makes this restaurant an excellent destination for romantic trysts or get-togethers with friends.

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We paid AZN97 for two which included a shared starter, two pasta main courses, a shared dessert, one coffee and also included a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc at AZN35.