Sketch, 25, Khagani Street, Baku. Tel: (+994 12) 493-76-34
Okay okay, more fool me! Somehow I was seduced by the name which is, of course, reminiscent of Mourad Mazouz’s famous two Michelin starred ‘Sketch’ restaurant in London. In the early years of this millennium, it was the absolute pinnacle of trendiness, the most expensive, most experimental and controversial restaurant in the UK and voted the 18th best in the world. It was also one of the first restaurants to combine food and art in a meaningful way. Being seen there gave you instant social prestige, not that I ever got beyond a single drink at the bar. These days, in any case, it’s gone all dusty pink and isn’t really my kinda place. Obviously, I didn’t for one moment think that the Baku Sketch had even the remotest connection to the London Sketch but the memory of desirability lingers in the name, so I was curious.
Yes….well….there may be a red carpet outside the premises on Khagani Street but inside, the restaurant has all the flair and ambience of a service station on the M4. You know, the type that has recently been refurbished to exude an element of attempted ‘classiness’ but, in fact, is drowning in its own beigeness. Pale simulated pine veneer tables, plastic place mats, too bright overhead lighting, several huge TV screens. Not even the white painted brick walls with their framed monochrome photos can inject the faintest whiff of personality into the place. I’m beginning to sulk. I’ve dressed up a bit, made an effort, but this place is already a complete waste of lipstick. Not a good start.
Then the menu comes. For once I am actually grateful that there is a glossy photo of every dish, since the menu is entirely in Russian which is beyond me. I point, the waiter tries to explain every dish in one word but his English is of the same standard as my Russian. Eventually, we come to an agreement of sorts. Thinking of ‘Old Mac Donald’, I go with the simplest words, ‘duck’ and ‘fish’ and can just about stop myself from explaining by quacking and flapping my arms. I choose a couple of inoffensive looking, self explanatory starters and mumble hopefully ‘terevez?’ (vegetables?). What do we want to drink, the waiter asks. It turns out that the wine list is somewhat limited. There’s Chardonnay or Merlot. Now I’m a strictly ABC (Anything but Chardonnay) woman, so that then rather restricts my choice. Fine.
The starters arrive, The little cream cheese and roast courgette rolls are actually positively delicious! The chicken samosas with chilli dip are also pretty good, the filo thin and non greasy, the chilli dip spicy but not sickly sweet. Well hello, maybe there’s hope yet?! Perhaps the four stars on Tripadvisor are merited after all! My mood lifts.
Barely have the starters been cleared that the mains are served. So they’re not cooked from scratch then, haha. Before us are: one completely plain piece of dried up seabass with a lemon slice on top and very artful swirls of cherry sauce filling the empty spaces on the plate (eh? Cherry sauce with fish? Come again?) and a pile of what looks like blowtorched to within an inch of its life greyish/brown shoe leather purporting to be duck with a thick warm slice of pineapple which has not been peeled properly and a warm mushy pear and, of course, the obligatory cherry sauce swirls. Both dishes are so dry and overcooked that presumably the chewing of them burns more calories than they contain. And they are tasteless too. The equally overcooked mixed frozen vegetables are cold but thankfully come without cherry sauce..
We may be naïve, having been lured by the Sketch name, but completely stupid we are not, or so we believe, so we give further experimentation with dessert and coffee a resounding miss. Then comes the real shocker! The bill for our meal for two, including two small bottles of water, a beer and a glass of Merlot, comes to a whopping AZN89.50! Clearly, we are stupid….
An hour after we sit down at Sketch, we’re home again. It’s 9 pm and we’re sipping good coffee and digging into a box of rather nice macaroons, a chilled glass of white alongside, happy now but quite stunned at the experience. Like Etch-a-Sketch, I think I’ll simply erase it from my mind.