Scalini, Port Baku Towers, 153 Neftchiler Avenue, Baku
Tel.: (012) 404 8207
Whoop whoop! Everybody’s favourite Italian is now also in Port Baku! It takes up the premises of the former Madison and is almost right at the sea end of the so called Fashion Street, which means that you can eat your way through Health Food (Baku Café), Japanese (Masu), Lebanese (Movida), Fish (Harbour) and Italian (Scalini), just walking down one side of the street! Oh, the cosmopolitan gourmet opportunities we have here in Baku! Very conveniently, the Baku Gym and Health Club is at the other end of the same row, so you don’t have far to go to work off your guilty calories. Like all the other restaurants in that row, this Scalini is owned by the Saffron Group but run by the inimitable Elio Bevilaqua, its head chef and manager. The other Scalini at 2 Bakikhanov Street remains associated but fully independent.
Four days after it opened ‘me ‘n ma gurlz’ headed over for lunch to check it out. My first impression was a surprise; although the building from the outside is sleek and contemporary, the restaurant inside is trying to replicate the original Scalini which charms with its rather old fashioned provincial look, like something that has been bypassed by time and is stuck in the 1950s. While this nostalgia works very well in the cosy No.1 restaurant, I’m not so sure it’s is quite so successful in Port Baku. For a start, this new restaurant has a bigger, more open plan layout, so the old school cosiness cannot be achieved in the same way, secondly, those starched swede coloured table cloths went out with the arc and look strange in a contemporary restaurant trying hard but not succeeding to look rustic and provincial. Personally, I would have welcomed a modern version of Scalini, more adapted to its environment. My quick straw poll confirmed that I was not alone in thinking this. However, it could be argued that a more vintage look offers a contrast to all the neighbouring restaurants which are in contemporary style. Still, let’s not judge a book by its cover or, as Paulo Coelho says much more spiritually, ‘You cannot judge the beauty of a particular path just by looking at the gate’. At the end of the day, it’s the food that counts.
The maestro himself, Elio Bevilacqua, greeted us warmly, showed us around and then seated us at a table for six in an alcove overlooking the whole restaurant. This has got to be the star table in the joint! Here you can see and be seen, all the while happily indulging in the most wonderful Italian food, for wonderful it was! There was the ‘Business Lunch’ Buffet with mouthwatering looking options. It costs AZN18 which gives you the choice of 12 varieties of starters, three different hot dishes, three different garnishes, as well as dessert, tea and coffee. All that was beyond us on this occasion, we wanted something smaller, lighter, something more snacky. The menu is essentially the same as in the mother restaurant but shorter because, as Elio pointed out, it’s very early days and they want to make sure they can walk to perfection before they start running. He offered to select some antipasti for us which, he felt, we’d particularly enjoy. And boy, did we enjoy them! Imagine for a moment, four reasonably elegant ladies, mostly of a certain age, pillars of Baku society, slowly, before your very eyes, transforming into eye rolling, lip smacking, finger licking, oily chinned, bread ripping, crustacean piercing munch monsters. Yep, that’s what happens to you at Scalini, you turn from a politely dining Dr. Jekyll into a greedily slurping Mrs. Hyde.
We had Zucchini Fritti, crispy crunchy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside, with a piquant tomato sauce on the side, Funghi gratinati, delicious champignons, finely seasoned and baked with incredible cheese, we had deep fried calamari rings with a tartar sauce, the calamari fine in a delicate, oil free crispy batter, plump garlicky prawns in their shells, their oil screaming to be mopped up with the homemade focaccia, Parmigiana, made from layered cheese, aubergine and tomato, and little parma ham and cheese rolls. And these were just meant to be the starters! Portions were very generous and once we’d devoured every last morsel, we were simply physically unable to eat any more, well almost….This little piggy had to try the cheese cake….Come on, what do you expect? I write restaurant reviews, it is my moral duty to eat. It’s not that I’m doing it for my own gain, I sacrifice myself purely for the benefit of my readers! Yes, and pigs can fly…..In any case, the cheese cake with a chocolate sauce artistically drizzled over the top, was, needless to say, extremely good. Our lunch, including a few small bottles of water cost AZN83.50 for the four of us, just over AZN20 per head, which is very good value indeed.
Do I recommend Scalini? Not half, as they say in the UK. In other words, with bells on! Elio told us that this was a ‘soft’ opening, so no grand announcement, just a gentle merging in to the Port Baku scene, allowing for time to adapt and adjust to the demands and requirements of the clientele here and getting it 100% right, step by step. Upstairs is a pleasant bar where there is ‘Happy Hour’ from 5.30pm to 7.30 pm and snacks are complimentary, and from time to time, as a very special treat, Elio will organize brunches.
Benvenuto a Scalini!