Cook Zone, 27a Khagani Street, Baku
Tel.: +994 12 491 98 98 www.cookzone.net
People often ask me how I manage to avoid putting on weight when I write all these restaurant reviews and obviously have a hearty appetite. Well, the answer is simple, when I’m not eating out at restaurants or at friends’ houses, I live a pretty much exclusively vegetarian vegan lifestyle. No meat, no wheat, no dairy just lovely fruit salad, green juices, steamed vegetables, roast aubergines, tabbouleh, butternut squash curries, humous, avocados, that sort of thing and, from time to time, a nice piece of grilled spiced fish. I’m a real ground flax seed, chia, sunflower kernels and quinoa wallah too. I do this because it keeps me feeling light and healthy. Ach nonsense, who am I kidding? I do this because it means I can indulge all the more outside of my house! I love a nice bacon (with nice crispy curly fat on!) buttie or a good steak tartar as much as the next person and as for Sunday roasts with gravy, roast potatoes and all the trimmings…..don’t get me started! Believe me, I am no new age holier than though tree hugging health food messiah, I just like a double good excuse to pig out! I’ve eaten horse, kangaroo and ostrich but still, I’m not a natural born carnivore. A little lamb cutlet or a nice thin slice of rare beef are perfect but huge slabs of dense meat put me off. There’s something about the taste, smell and texture that seems kind of sweaty to me and I absolutely draw the line at offal or pigs trotters! No way, José! I’d heard good reports about Cook Zone which is more or less on the corner of Samad Verghun and Khagani, very close to my home, so I was keen to experience it for myself. The restaurant is long and thin and divided into two sections, one where you get your meal already prepared and the other, more popular end, where you prepare your own over a small BBQ well, set into the centre of your table, along the lines of ‘Be your own Grill Master’. It’s not an unattractive restaurant with its nice copper globe lamps and brick walls but for me, it smacked just a little of the Steakhouse in Winchmore Hill 1978 (for Non Londoners, that is to say that it has the slight air of a suburban chain) which was underscored by Simon and Garfunkel and Dusty Springfield in the background. The fact that it was quite draughty around the legs didn’t help with the cosiness factor. As it’s a BBQ restaurant, the menu is quite predictably heavy on the meat dishes although haloumi and vegetable kebabs also feature as does some fish. We chose the Cook Zone Assorted Meats (No.60 on the menu) at a price of between AZN45 and AZN80, depending on the amount of meat you chose. For the two of us, the basic weight of 400g was plenty. A selection of nice wafer thin beef, lamb and chicken slices came on a platter. There were meant to be vegetables with it, which, as it turned out, consisted of six aubergine slices, four little strips of peppers, three button mushrooms and three cherry tomatoes . More garnish than substance, really. We also ordered a side dish of haloumi and one of chips. With it all came the hot charcoal basket which was inserted into the table well and covered by a grille, and tongs for us to bbq our individual pieces of food. Too late we realized that you need to order any sauces separately, so we requested ketchup and made do with that. The haloumi was nice and succulent but incredibly salty, even by Azeri standards. The meat was of very good quality and tasted fine but somehow, it seemed a little boring, just like that on the plate with nothing other than chips and ketchup to accompany it. Nice enough but a bit of a ‘so what?’ experience as far as I was concerned, offering not much variety on the taste and texture front. The lovely husband was a bit more enthusiastic. The chips were excellent. The concept of bbq’ing your own is quite fun; a little like fondue in that you chat while you prepare your own food and wait for it to cook. It’s definitely a sociable way of eating. What can I say? The food was good, if mildly uninteresting, the service was good too, there’s no fault to be found, but somehow it didn’t really ring my bell. Maybe you need to be a committed carnivore to appreciate it more. I’d say Cook Zone is one up from a fast food joint but down from a ‘proper’ restaurant where you might want to hunker down for the evening, it’s more of a diner, perhaps. It’s the right place if you want to grab a quick bite and might be more enjoyable in a big group of friends or with children rather than a deux. Our meal including one glass of Pinot Grigio and one of Efes beer came to AZN 72.