The House Café, Port Baku Mall, Third Floor (AZ), 151 Neftchilar Avenue, Baku
Tel.: (012) 464 0842 www.thehousecafe.com
I quite like meandering around Port Baku Mall, window shopping the top designer boutiques, the emphasis being on window. Even the new Marks & Spencer seems ridiculously expensive compared to the UK. Recently I walked into a shop, my eye drawn to some desirable item of clothing or other which I just wanted to touch, but before I knew it, no less than five very pretty young sales assistants descended on me from all directions. Like spiders waiting for a gullible fly to get stuck in their web, I was obviously exactly what they had been waiting for, for days, maybe weeks, even months! With their smiling crimson mouths, they were going to suck the life force out of me or at least my every last Gepik. One item after another was pulled off the rails and presented to me, coming at me thick and fast. Merciless, they paid no heed to my utterances that this or that wasn’t my style or my colour, nor to my squeaky little boasts that, in fact, I had thousands of little black dresses and really, I did not need another. My concerns that, if anything, I’d need something that fitted and was my size were generously brushed aside by 10 beautifully manicured hands; not to worry one iota, they would organize all alterations in a jiffy and free of charge! I was sat in a chair, fawned upon, offered tea, offered discounts, offered lifelong friendship. Surely an incy wincy four figure sum for an equally incy wincy dress meant little to a woman of my taste? And here was the jacket to match! And the shoes! Not the right colour? Never mind, it was very fashionable this season! And here, a gorgeous bag! How fabulous I’d look, how irresistible my husband would find me!
I was beginning to perspire profusely, there in my wing chair, smiling rigidly and secretly plotting how I might escape, held hostage by three of the ladies while the two others ran from rail to me to rail and back . Would I have to apply for a second mortgage and just buy something and run? Could I surreptitiously text my husband to alert the SAS or Green Berets? Or maybe I could feign some sort of fit and escape by ambulance? In the end, I managed to negotiate a deal. In exchange for my mobile phone number and email address, the sirens would set me free on the understanding that I would come back with my husband and his supposedly bulging wallet a little later. Phew! A lucky escape, if ever there was one! Avoiding all eye contact with absolutely anyone, running around Port Baku Mall in a panic, looking for the nearest exit, fresh air and freedom, I unexpectedly stumbled upon the very chic, very calm The House Café on the second floor (or third floor, if you are Azeri). All coffee bean coloured – um, I’m going to avoid describing it as brown as that sounds so drab- it is cosmopolitan, elegant but relaxed, has a great looking menu, good service, a cosy seating area by a fire place, a drop dead fabulous view on to what may currently be an unattractive building site opposite but which in no time at all promises to be the interesting new Kempinski building.
In fact, The House Café is a well known Turkish operation with several locally very popular outlets in Istanbul. This Baku venue is their first abroad. The name is a little misleading as this is not just a café but also serves rather nice food from 10 am to midnight (kitchen closes at 11 pm), seven days a week.
Here I revived myself after my retail adventure with a coffee and a cookie by the fireside, all the while anxiously looking over my shoulder to check that I wasn’t being followed by the fashion terrorists. There was a brief moment of fright as I stepped into the WC cubicle of the Ladies’ and found myself surrounded by a crowd of women dressed in the self same clothes I was wearing, until I realized that they were just my own reflection, all loosening their belts in the four floor to ceiling mirrored walls of the little room.
So relieved, comfortable and relaxed did I feel at The House Café, that I vowed to return for a meal a few days later. A brace of girlfriends and I met there for lunch, with me making my way there in dark glasses and with my collar turned up.
The executive chef for the House Café Group is a Turkish gentleman called Coşkun Uysal. He trained at the world renowned Leith’s cookery school in London and has worked with Jamie Oliver at The River Café and Fifteen. Twice a year he updates the International/Turkish menu to incorporate seasonal changes and incorporate modern food trends. Sure enough, his skilled background shows in the quality of the choices on the menu. My two friends and I found it very hard to make a decision as to what to order; it all looked incredibly delicious. Eventually, after much ‘ooooh, listen to this’ and ‘I really fancy that. No, look at this, let’s have this!’ we settled for a quinoa salad, risotto, goats cheese and pumpkin balls, Mucver, zucchini, walnut and feta fritters with cucumber yoghurt (basically tsatsiki) and Lahmacun, kind of mini pizzas with mince and spices. All of it was quite outstandingly good, fresh, crispy and definitely moreish and the quinoa salad was one of the best I have ever eaten. These were just the ‘small dishes’ which are great to share but House also do more substantial main courses, soups, sandwiches and toasts, nice looking puds and, I’m told, fantastic breakfasts. According to one of my friends who says she has eaten her way through most of the menu (not that you’d know!), the food is always tip top, whether in the morning, at lunchtime or for dinner and the wines are pretty good too. The House Cafe also does special occasion cakes to order in various sizes as well as event catering.
Our lunch for three cost AZN48.50 including three fizzy waters and a couple of coffees.
This lovely café/restaurant, a little hidden away as it is, is easily as good as any in Port Baku itself and I urge you to try it. I think you’ll really enjoy it! Just make sure you’re not tempted to go into any of the shops on the way or you may never be seen again! I am still getting weekly phone calls, emails and text messages, keenly advising me of new collections.