Sahil Bar and Restaurant, Sahil Dining Complex, Bulvar, Baku Tel: +99412 404 8212 www.saffron.az
Sahil? What does it mean? I’ve googled the word and I’ve found these definitions: 1) A rarely used South Asian masculine name meaning ‘guide’ , an English and Indian name of Native American and Sanskrit origin 2) the bank of a river or sea shore, guiding a boat to its safe destination (Hindi) 3) someone who makes you smile or someone who guides you safely 4) The name of the village and municipality of the Qaradag rayon of Baku, just outside the city on the way to Gobustan. It is, of course, also the name of the metro station closest to where I live in Baku, the name of the apartment building above it and of the restaurant complex on Bulvar, just opposite where Samad Verghun meets Neftchilar. Sandwiched on the middle floor between Pizzeria Tosca and Pacific rim club restaurant Pasifico, is a third Saffron Group owned eatery, Sahil, which gives the Sahil Restaurant Complex its name.
Now I have to be honest with you here, I have not eaten in many Azerbaijani restaurants during my time in Baku. There have been two or three hot summer evening dinners at Caravanserai in the Old Town, usually with guests from abroad, and I’ve loved the Baku olde worlde ambience there. Sumac and a lovely restaurant in the countryside not far from Baku, the name of which I have forgotten now, were good experiences in charming company. Our outing to ‘Flavour’, Azerbaijani French fusion food, did not go down well, as documented on this site.
Not being the most enthusiastic meat eater of all times, with a proclivity for very spicy food and contrasting textures on one plate, Azerbaijani cuisine and it’s typical menus, just doesn’t really ring my bell. (Well, aside from caviar, of course, that goes without saying! – Sorry, I’m having a Patsy Stone moment!). I like Middle Eastern, Indian and South East Asian, Pacific Rim, Mediterranean, African and nicely done Northern/Western European food, so given a choice, and this blog testifies to that, I tend to eat in restaurants of that ilk in preference. I don’t mean to offend anyone, it’s just how it is. I guess taste buds develop according to training and mine got their first impressions in Pakistan, so there you have it.
We have been eyeing up Sahil as a potential dinner venue for quite some time but it always got rejected in favour of other places for exactly the reasons I’ve just mentioned. Finally, and in the company of some very fun friends, we bit the bullet and visited. Only it wasn’t a bullet at all, it was more of a peanut M&M! Like its sister restaurants below and above, it has a pretty stupendous view, with its large window front facing the Caspian head on. The two tiered interior is also very easy on the eye, with zebrano laminated tables, sage coloured, leather covered retro chairs, sleek dark brown wood paneling and floors, clever room dividers, attractive subtle lighting and eyecatching artefacts, relating to the Caspian Sea. Hats off to the interior designer, it’s certainly a looker!
Fortunately, the friends who joined us ay this dinner were long-time Baku residents, one from an Iranian background, and old Sahil hands, so we left them to recommend and order on our behalf. We had Mangal salad, which, personally, I always find a bit boring and not nearly as nice as Babaganoush, absolutely gorgeously delicious herb and pumpkin Qutab, very nice little aubergine rolls, stuffed with walnut, sour cream and dill , Mirza Ghassemi which is aubergine, garlic, egg, plum tomato dip, which I much enjoyed, a really lovely halloumi kebab, Caspian beef and chicken kebabs, which others raved about but which didn’t do it for me as I found it bland and dry, Lamb and eggplant Khurush, slowly braised lamb with eggplant, tender and palatable, and, my total and utter favourite of the evening, the supper yummy chicken Fisindjan Pilaf with walnuts in pomegranate sauce and rice which is almost like a very dark coloured curry but with a savoury fruity taste, along the lines of sweet and sour but not at all as sickly. All dishes were beautifully presented and obviously cooked with great care, using top quality ingredients.
The lovely husband couldn’t resist a pear tart with ice cream of which I sampled just a little (honest!) and which, like everything else, was quite outstanding.
Service was initially impressive, the waiter helpful, smiley, knowledgable and smart, though towards the end of the evening, it slackened off a little. Between five of us, we only had one bottle of wine and three beers, three bottles of water, one tea, two coffees. Including a service charge of 5%, the bill came to AZN211.50. Not bad at all at AZN42 a head in that sophisticated and high calibre type of environment.
The wonderful Qutab, halloumi kebabs and incredible Fisindjan Pilaf particularly stood out for me and there’s no doubt that they have brought me much closer to the local cuisine. Eating these culinary delights in the company of good friends I treasure, with the expanse of the Caspian framed by the city lights in our sight, made this a truly memorable evening.