Rhythm and Blues

RnB Cafe, 9 Narimanov Square, Baku    Tel.: (012) 537 1919

Nariman Narimanov (1870 – 1925) was a teacher, revolutionary, writer, politician and statesman and at one point Azerbaijan’s minister of foreign affairs and head of the Soviet government here. According to Wikipedia, Narimanov was an ardent Bolshevik as well as a moderate Azeri nationalist. Retrospectively, he is, apparently, viewed as one of the most popular and charismatic leaders of his country and was occasionally referred to as ‘the Lenin of the East’. In conflict with one of Stalin’s henchmen, he was transferred from the Caucasus to Moscow where he died in 1925. Leon Trotsky considered his death to be the second greatest loss for the eastern world after Lenin. Not just a politician and statesman but also an intellectual, Narimanov wrote a large number of plays, stories and novels and translated some of Gogol’s work into Turkic. After his death, he was honoured in the entire region by having countless streets, cultural centres, schools and hospitals named after him and in 1977 a statue of the man was erected in Baku on the square which also carries his name, now a well known landmark. Here, at the foot of this gigantic statue, right on the busy roundabout, is the RnB Cafe.

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RnB might stand for Revolutionaries and Bolsheviks but we are told on the cafe’s Facebook page, that it stands for Restaurant and Bar, Rhythm and Blues and, probably in direct contrast to Narimanov’s ideology, Rich and Beautiful. It is unclear whether the Rich and Beautiful refers to the cafe itself -it’s certainly beautiful and judging by its pricing, will be very rich in no time- or to its clientele. Unfortunately, we are neither but, undaunted, we made our way there on a hot Friday evening.  The restaurant is immediately recognisable by the big white awnings and surprisingly, despite its position right on one of Baku’s busiest roundabouts, since it is set slightly lower and enclosed in attractive screening, the traffic outside is not an issue at all. There’s a large outdoor space, very appealingly presented with big comfortable wooden garden furniture with two tone grey padding enhanced by orange and yellow stripy scatter cushions, pretty flower beds and many well placed little lights. Inside, the restaurant is divided into several different areas, all very stylishly interior designed with a modern baroque flavour and quirky touches.

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The menu, in English, Azeri and Russian, is pretty impressive too. Asian fusion, Italian classics, sandwiches, steaks, burgers, fish, it’s all there plus a long list of vodkas, whiskies and cocktails. The wine list, on a separate menu, is not extensive, perhaps 25 to 30 in total but it includes French, Italian, Georgian and Azerbaijani.

We ordered an Asian mix which consisted of chicken satay, prawn wonton and vegetable spring rolls, an Asian duck salad, dressing on the side, salmon tataki and a club sandwich. The duck salad was fantastic, the Asian mix tasted good although the sweet chilli sauce that came with it was out of a bottle and overly sweet and there was no peanut sauce with the satay. The salmon tataki was not tataki as I know it, briefly seared and thinly sliced, but cooked salmon on a stick rolled in sesame seeds. Nice but just not quite what I expected. The club sandwich came with cheese, chicken, egg, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise and a good helping of fries on the side with ketchup and mayonnaise and was very enjoyable. With it, we had water and a bottle of Sauvignon which came nicely chilled in an ice bucket. To top everything off, we treated ourselves to a portion of creme brûlée, which tasted great but didn’t have much of a crackle, and a coffee. IMG_2947

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In terms of the service, it took a little while to catch the waiter’s eye to place our order and, in typical Baku style, plates were whipped away while one of us was still eating but overall, it was friendly and helpful. I also liked the waiters’ aprons, each with a different riveted motif, basket ball and boots, star and crown, lips and lipstick, great fun and a bit different. For no apparent reason, a glass of rose each came ‘on the house’ which was a very nice, much appreciated gesture.

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The clientele were groups of young men, pairs of girls, mothers and daughters, couples on dates and a set of parents with their friends whose very pretty young, maybe 14 year old daughter demonstratively sat well apart from the adults and sulked intensely and rather picturesquely into her ice-cream, offering up a perfect study of teenage stroppiness. Many of the tables had shishas going, the fruity smells wafted through the garden and added to the laid back ambience. So much for the very pleasant rhythm, the blues came with the bill which at close to AZN100 (of which AZN30 for the wine) was quite hefty for essentially four starters and a pudding, the mosquito bites under the table which eventually brought our evening to an end, and the dicky tum suffered the next day by the only prawn wonton eater among us. I am not certain that old Narimanov or his friend Trotsky (who while in exile in Mexico with his wife did have an affair with a married Frida Kahlo, the naughty man!) would much approve of the decadent RnB Cafe but I must say that despite the money, mozzie and malady issues, we had a great evening out and very much enjoyed its smart cosmopolitan flair. Go and try it!

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