Casual Brasserie, 46 Nizami Street, Baku. Tel.: (012) 498 8120
In Baku, some shops and restaurants have peculiar names. ‘Charming Womens’, ‘Ant Hill’, the rather unfortunate ‘Bee Gross’ for a supermarket and the ‘ufuk’ copy shop all make you giggle. ‘Casual Brasserie’ doesn’t exactly sound cool either, for a cafe/restaurant which is situated so centrally on Nizami right by one of the prettiest fountains. But don’t let yourself be put off. It is, in fact, quite possibly my favourite place to meet friends and hang out during the day. It’s not as tearoomy pretty as Cafe Bisque, the cake selection not as extensive as at Paul’s Cafe (see previous review: Strawberry Tarts Forever) and the coffee, though perfectly nice, perhaps not quite as good as it is at Mado but the Casual Brasserie is more than the sum of its parts.
I met a friend there for brunch and we did that infernal girly thing of ‘ I’ll have the Caesar Salad but without the dressing. I’d like some lemon instead and I’ll have the chicken. Hold the croutons but please can I have some extra parmesan’ and ‘I’ll have an egg but without the sauce, no toast, please , but can I have spinach with it instead.’ The waiter did not as much as raise a single eyebrow, nor did his mouth twitch disdainfully. He repeated the order back to us in all seriousness and ten minutes later our food arrived as ordered. Just so. That’s the other thing: you never have to wait for service at the Casual Brasserie, there’s always someone to look after you. A cushion for your seat? Not a problem. Coffee is served with a glass of water ( a wonderful and healthy Austrian custom which every cafe should adopt!) and a little biscuit. You like the biscuit? Just say so and they’ll bring you another couple. The door is opened for you when you enter and exit and the waiters stand aside when you make your way down the stairs to the pleasant and clean loo. They’re a polite lot. And then there’s their bread, especially their onion bread. Fresh and springy and absolutely to die for. You can actually buy it there, take it home and dunk it in your soup. Heavenly! The strawberry tarts too are legendary but so popular that they are not always available.
There’s a nice variety of really good salads which come in decent portions along with pizza, pasta, burgers, fish, chicken and red meat dishes, fresh juices and all the usual beverages offering up different coffees and teas. Being a grazer, I particularly like their breakfast platter which gives you a boiled egg, olives, a selection of different cheeses, cucumber, cherry tomatoes , a small dish of potatoes, butter, jam, honey and turkish bagels, all on one plate. Add a glass of fresh orange juice and a coffee and your entire daily needs are met. Bingo!
Here’s the thing: at the Casual Brasserie you feel loved. There’s always a smile and often a genuine compliment and they make you feel as though you are their favourite customer. Who can resist that?!
The outdoor space is great for watching the world go by and, invariably, you meet someone you know. Inside, the ambience is reminiscent of an Austrian cafe, with tables quite tightly packed. Prices, while not cheap, are average for the nicer type of cafe in Baku.
I guess, in my case, it’s more of a burgeoning love affair than a casual acquaintance, quite possibly due to those so generously offered extra chocolate biscuits with my coffee but I’m always keen to get your feedback and experience, so please leave your comments below.