Turkish Delight

Garage Iskender, 7 Safter Guliyev (off Neftchilar), Icheri Sheher, Baku

Tel.: (012) 505 4505

My son, now a successful businessman with a gorgeous equally high-flying wife, a hefty mortgage and a cute cat, was heavily into garage music in his mid teens.  At the time, much to his embarrassment now, he dressed in newspaper print Moschino trousers, a loud red and yellow Red Bull leather jacket, sported a pierced eyebrow and, most incongruously, spoke ghetto ‘gangsta’ lingo. Impressively, he began arranging and promoting his own music events when he was only 17, usually in deep dark cellar clubs in questionable areas of London. Ever the supportive mother, my job was that of entrance fee taking dragon at the front door. Mature (ish) as I supposedly already was then, I got into the tunes and the edgy, very ‘street’ vibe and enjoyed meeting the various underground  MCs and DJs, some of whom, such as the So Solid Crew, became quite well-known and had a few chart hits.  My abiding memories of those days centre around the desperately cold feet I had, sitting there in my little booth in the draught at 3 am, taking money and stamping hands, the heavy basses vibrating in the background. Still, I look back on our little family business adventure with great fondness. Long gone now are the garage music days, along with the pierced eyebrow, the lingo, the outlandish clothing and the stabbing hand movements which were so specific to that era, but when I first heard of Baku restaurant Garage Iskender, they sprang to mind. initially I erroneously believed that it was a club or a venue for just that style of music.  I mean, who eats in a garage?

Garage Iskender
Garage Iskender
Garage Iskender is named after a bus garage which used to be at this almost hidden location in a small alleyway between the smart Dior and Bulgari shops, not far from the Maiden Tower, on Neftchilar. There is little reminder of the old bus garage days in evidence now. This Turkish restaurant has an inviting dining conservatory at the front, beautifully starched white tablecloths, thoughtfully laid tables and a fantastic reputation to match. I can’t believe that it has taken me 19 months in Baku to finally make my way here! What have I been missing?? I totally loved it and I’ll tell you exactly why:
It’s a cosy, comfortable neighbourhood restaurant, the sort of place where you feel truly warmly welcomed and where you can sit happily all evening, eating, drinking and putting the world to rights. Whether you come alone, as a romantic twosome, with children, or in a party of friends,  the uncomplicated vibe will make you feel right at home. Service is unobtrusive but friendly and helpful, the waiters dressed in smart uniforms and clearly very well trained. The premises are impeccably clean. The menu is basic and being Turkish Iskender, a specialist kebab preparation method from Bursa, obviously very meat based, but the quality and taste of the food is indisputable and the portions are generous.
Garage Iskender, Conservatory
Garage Iskender, Conservatory
Garage Iskender Restaurant
Garage Iskender Restaurant
I was particularly enthralled with the wonderful combinations of flavour and consistency. My lamb shish kebab of beautifully tender and succulent meat came with a very good bulgar wheat salad, delicious roasted mild green chillies and juicy tomatoes, a few French fries, a tasty tomato sauce (not ketchup, proper sunshiney tasting liquid sauce actually made from fresh tomatoes), all completely covering the perfect pitta underneath, and on request, yoghurt as well. It was scrumptious! The lovely husband had a Garage Iskender Kebab, which he tucked into enthusiastically and enjoyed very much indeed. Both dishes were not remotely greasy or fatty and I have completely revised my opinion of kebabs.
Lamb Kebab with Bulghar Wheat
Lamb Kebab with Bulghar Wheat
Kebab Garage Iskender
Kebab Garage Iskender
Despite the fact that after our meal, we were pretty much stuffed to the gills, who should come along? Why, Mr. Sweet Tooth, of course, my regular, evil guest! Luckily the restaurant was out of the rather tempting sounding rice pudding, and the cheesecake too, and I was about to rejoice that for once I had won the sugar battle when the waiter, smiling enigmatically, conspiratorially told us that the Künefe was ‘very tasty’. Now I had never tried this nor, ignoramus that I am, had I even heard of it, so in the name of experimental science and the greater good of my readership, into the breach I jumped!
What arrived in front of me was a very flat kind of mini flan pan containing what almost looked like deep fried camembert but with crispy crunchy caramelised sugar on top. Yes yes, I know, it’s a heart attack in the making, not to mention at least five extra inches on the hips but come on, a girl’s got to try Künefe! Sticky cheesy sweet mess that it was, I’m afraid to say that it went down a treat, all of it, though I did let the lovely husband have a couple of bites. I’m kind that way.
Kunefe
Künefe
That evening, only Turkish coffee and Nescafé were available, neither of which I’m mad about but do you know what, it didn’t matter in the slightest. We were so content sitting there with a very amusing friend of outrageous opinions and killer one liners, chatting away, laughing a lot  and generally having a good time, that we really weren’t bothered in the slightest.
The wine list is very short, basically limited to one choice per colour only, and my glass of white wine wasn’t exactly the nectar of the gods but it was well chilled and left no headachey memory the next morning.
IMG_5713
The bill for three substantial main courses, one equally generous portion of Künefe with tea, one Nescafé, a glass of wine, two of Efes and two bottles of water came to a mere AZN68. This is not just a very reasonable price for a good meal for three but, bearing in mind the quality of its ingredients, it is really excellent value for money.
Will I be back? You bet your bottom dollar, I will! This is one of the sweetest, most relaxed places to hang out on a Baku evening!

3 comments

  1. Oh yes, there are many amazing restaurants here in NY… Buddakan is lovely…the food and the decor/location inside the old Nabisco cookie factory! They make edamame dumplings that are divine!
    I hope one day to visit Baku too…I’m sending you a virtual postcard here via WordPress :-)))
    Cheers!
    Happy weekend,
    *Lia

  2. I wave to you over the big pond and beyond, Lia! In NYC Buddakan is my favourite restaurant, although I am sure there are a gazillion wonderful eateries I’ve not yet had the opportunity to try! Hopefully, one day soon There will be a Postcard from New York! 😉

  3. I wish I could visit this restaurant! Your description of it makes me want one of those kebabs! I’m glad it was a great evening and hope you will return back soon. A wonderful, memorable meal is always a joy!
    Happy Friday and cheers from NYC,
    *Lia