Dafne by Dalida, 18 Samad Verghun, Baku
Tel.: (012) 493 5754
In ancient Greek mythology, the story of Daphne and Apollo is one of lust versus chastity. In a fit of pique, the god of love, Eros, pierces Apollo’s heart with the golden arrow of love and the water nymph Daphne’s with the leaden arrow of hatred. Consequently the young Apollo falls head over heels in love with the fair maiden but she, in turn, doesn’t want to know and does her best to escape him. He pursues, she runs, until eventually, he has almost caught up with her when her father, a river god, magics her into a laurel bush, saving her from Apollo’s amorous advances. Apollo’s ongoing passion for her, however, turns her into an evergreen and this, of course, is how we know the pretty bay laurel today.
Ever since I first arrived in Baku, I’ve been intending to go to Dafne, the restaurant with the huge roof terrace overlooking Samad Verghun and the big Nizami statue, partly because it’s there, so prominently visible and you can’t really miss it and partly, in homage to my mother-in-law, Daphne Diana, who is not just the lovely husband’s Mama but also my much loved friend. 16 months on and I still hadn’t been, even though it is just minutes from where I live. When a friend suggested we meet there on a Saturday afternoon, I was keen to see whether I would love it as much as Apollo his water nymph.
Actually, I was surprised. It looks rather more attractive than I had imagined. The indoor restaurant section is smart and well presented, despite being in Azerbaijan’s favourite colour scheme, brown, brown, brown, wherever you look, and, of course, laid out like a typical Azeri restaurant with rows of tables either side and a walkway down the middle, rather than spread throughout the room. The TV screens on the walls are unusually discreet but as so often, the lighting is a bit overly bright. Outside there is a more casual large conservatory, light and airy but warm during the day, where you can smoke shisha if you feel that way inclined. Beyond the conservatory are the generous sun terraces. Unused in winter, of course, but I imagine that they must be absolutely wonderful in summer and particularly romantic in the evenings.
Instantly apparent is that the service is super attentive. You are met at the door, escorted to your table, helped out of your coat, your bag lifted on to a side chair for you, your glass refilled after two sips. It is just on the acceptable side of being too intense and makes you feel looked after and cossetted rather than annoyed, though it takes some getting used to when you first arrive. You almost expect the waiter to offer you a head massage while you eat.
And then the menu…..Now, I’ve always had the experience in Europe that if there are pictures of the individual dishes on the menu, the food is guaranteed to be dodgy. It’s just how it always is, I mean, if you need to point at pictures like a pre school child that can’t read, then chances are the food is of a basic kids menu standard too. At Dafne’s they have A3 sized menus and lots of food photos but, at least, it is trilingual in Azerbaijani, Russian and English. Useful, until you read that you are being offered ‘crap’ to eat, possibly accompanied by ‘green stuff’. So perhaps the photos are a good idea after all!
My friend ordered a lentil soup, one of the very few vegetarian option, which was very tasty indeed and also very inexpensive at AZN3. The bread that came with it was pretty good too. Between us, we ordered a pot of jasmine tea for AZN10 which strangely, but somehow successfully, was prepared in a large cafetiere and lasted us two hours. The ambience was congenial and we had a lovely time chatting.
I thought Dafne was good value and really nice but that I needed to return for an evening meal to get a more complete perspective, so a few days later the poor put upon lovely husband was forcefully removed from his football viewing arm chair at home and gently frogmarched through the drizzle down Nizami, up in the lift to the third floor and into Dafne. I have to be honest with you, I had my serious doubts about the food, really I did. Sure the lentil soup had been good but a proper dinner? Not likely! Well surprise surprise, it was excellent!
The bread on the table was lovely and warm but then more very thin flat bread arrived with poppy seeds, clearly fresh out of the oven. To start with, we shared pleasant lamb and zucchini patties which came with a minty yoghurt sauce as well as a red pepper sauce. Only after we ordered them, did we realize that we could just as well have had lovely fresh salady picky type Azeri starters from a tray the waiter carries around and presents to the table for you to choose from. To follow, the lovely husband very much enjoyed his beef, tomato, hot peppers, onion and rice, the beef very tender, chopped into small pieces together with the onion and the green pepper in a sauce with roast tomatoes, roast green peppers and onion on the side as well as a kind of chapatti like pancake. I had six lamb skewers with pitta, bulgar, sliced onions and roast green peppers, the ‘pitta’ being more like pancakes than pitta as we know it. Again, the meat was very tender and the whole dish very good in combination. The lovely husband and I like our food very spicy, so we added Tabasco sauce to give it more of a kick but to most diners the food would have been delicious and tasty just as it was. It wasn’t oily, it wasn’t overly salty, it wasn’t overcooked, it was just all about fresh, top quality ingredients, well prepared and attractively presented.
We all know what happened then, don’t we? Yes, too right, dessert time! There are quite a few nice things on offer, I must say. We decided on apple pie with vanilla ice cream to share, which was just as well, since it was quite a substantial portion. Ooooh and it was lovely! It may not have looked exactly like an American apple pie but I defy any Yank to turn up their nose at this one. Barely had the last crumb vanished into our mouths that the waiter brought us two more complimentary desserts with tea. Yikes! Sugar overload but you only live once! Into the breach, dear friends, once more! This time we had Qazandibi , a kind of firm thick vanilla pancake with pistachio and icecream and Heyva Tathsi, a firm quince compote ring with a blob of yoghurt, both very yummy.
All together we paid AZN 66.50 for this substantial and very good meal, including a glass of Efes, one of local white wine, a couple of bottles of mineral water and a cup of excellent Illy coffee. I still don’t know if this restaurant is Turkish or Azeri. It is associated with Dalida which has a Turkish chef and the menu did look quite Turkish to me but our waiter insisted that it was Azeri. Either way, it is tremendous value for money. In the summer, out on the terrace, with the city lights twinkling and perhaps with a group of friends, it will probably be one of the best restaurant venues in all of Baku for a casual authentic dinner under the stars but even with the winter gales blowing around our ears, it’s a nice place to go for some good food in an easygoing, if very brown environment.