Flavour Restaurant, Café and Bar, Zarifa Aliyeva 12, Baku
(+994) 12 480 1030 www.flavour.resto.az
My mother’s parents, my German grandparents, were opera buffs. From an early age, I was taken to the opera whenever I visited, sometimes three times a week. I’d get dressed up in my smartest outfit, initially this involved a velvet or tartan dress with a white collar and a big bow at the back and patent Mary Janes, later a mini with white tights and block heels. To be honest, I didn’t appreciate it much. I well remember falling asleep during ‘Carmen’ and being woken by my granny’s sharp elbow in my ribs. Another time, when I was in my early teens and at my most self conscious and awkward, I got thrown a small crumpled note with “I love you” scrawled on it and a stick man with specs drawn beside it. I never figured out who had dropped it into my lap or indeed whether it was even meant for me, but from then on I developed a greater interest in going, in the vain hope that I might meet its mystery author. To this day, I still have that little billet doux. Occasionally, as a special treat, my grandfather would take us for a post performance supper to the Opera Café/Restaurant opposite. This was a most grand affair with velvet covered gilt chairs, dramatic drapes and waiters in tails and bow ties. I’d always have chicken fricassee with tinned white asparagus served up in a big vol au vent case and afterwards, two balls of ice cream , one chocolate, the other vanilla.
I mention this because when we went to dinner at the new Baku restaurant ‘Flavour’, I had a pleasant sense of déja-vu. We’d stumbled across it on one of our local meanderings. Close to the French Embassy and just opposite Zadiq & Voltaire, it’s not easily recognizable. There’s little if any sign to indicate where it is, just a glimmer of chandeliers through high windows and an impressive looking front door. Incongruously, it’s beside an entrance which houses an English red telephone box. Nosey Parker that I am, I pushed the door open to find myself in an Azeri version of the exact same Opera Café, a vast dining room with pink and gold stucco ceilings, all mahogany veneer paneling with plush red upholstery, waiters in white waistcoats, bow ties and cut away tails, gleaming glass and tables laid just so, with three sets of cutlery and proper linen napkins. It felt as though I’d walked in on the set of Anna Karenina. Sadly, dashing uniformed officers and crinolined young women were conspicuous by their absence, in fact, on this occasion, we remained the only guests throughout the meal.
It all started so well. The staff were extremely professional, the waiters clearly silver service trained to a very high standard. We were told in excellent English that here they served French and Azeri cuisine. Conversely, all the while Italian music was playing in the background, O Sole Mio, Mamma Son Tante Felice and weirdly, Bella Ciao, the Italian partisan song, later to be replaced by live piano music, a tad too loud and muzaky. The menu was very long with some quite unusual flavour combinations: salmon and bacon rolls, eel salad, to name just two and generally, fairly typical Azeri style dishes were on offer, although there was also ‘Shatobrian’ to cover the French element. We were served a cold lamb and Cumberland sauce appetizer which was very nice. It was followed by some quite outstandingly fabulous warm bread and a trio of scrumptious dips, dill enhanced sour cream, spicy pumpkin puree and a very tasty chunky pesto. This would have done me just fine and I could have sat there all evening, drinking wine and dipping. Delicious!
We’d ordered a chicken, grape and walnut salad starter which, with its sparing, very light mayo dressing, was basically a version of Waldorf salad and very pleasant. (Cue Basil Fawlty, “I think we just ran out of Waldorfs”). The music not withstanding, so far, so impressive . Then, after quite a long wait which promised freshly prepared food, came our main courses, the lovely husband’s Lamb Kebab and my Chargrilled Dorado, both very attractively presented. But , alas, this is where it all sadly went downhill: both were dry, completely overdone and flavourless. The fish was unfilleted and was served with two different sauces, both of them sweet and sticky, one red, one brown, and the lamb, more riblet than kebab, was all bone and too little meat. The accompanying vegetables were precooked and then grilled and really only a garnish fit for the toothless rather than a fresh and wholesome side dish.
There appeared to be no dessert menu, so we were offered the choice of some sort of chocolaty concoction or a baked apple shell containing a fruit salad. We chose the latter. The LH liked it, I found it uninspired and resorted to digging around the bottom of my handbag where I invariably find something sweet squirreled away, often quite squashed but still fit for the job. The coffee, well I could swear that it was Nescafé and not the real thing but let’s not split hairs.
We paid AZN 88.30 for our meal including water, two beers and a glass of French wine. Not super cheap but not too bad either, if only our main courses had been a little more enticing.
I could so easily have fallen in love with this place, the style, the grandeur, the professionalism and the sense of stepping back in time to a more gracious Imperial Russian era. All the right ingredients were there, save for the let down of our main courses. I fear that the horseshoes and evil eye amulets hidden high up on the walls will not save this restaurant from failure unless they get their cooking up to scratch and announce their presence more visibly.