Friday, 10 January 2014

Eating Azerbaijani Style at Baku Restaurant London

Azerbaijan is a country that few of us know much about and yet straddled across the Eurasian borders, it is seeped with history.  Participation in the Eurovision Song Contest has boosted its profile in recent years with not only strong song entries, but a victory in 2011 which led to the 2012 Contest to be held in the country’s capital Baku.
As well as Baku being the name of Azerbaijan’s capital, it is also the name of top Azerbaijani restaurant in London.  Reading some positive reviews about it, I decided I wanted to go when I was next in the city.  That occasion came when over the Christmas break I made a trip down to the capital.   In the heart of Knightsbridge, near to Harrods on Sloane Street, the restaurant (a former members club), is sign-posted by an easel emblazoned with ‘Baku’ on it by the doorway beckoning you in.  To get one's bearings, a good way to find it is that it's directly opposite the designer boutique Prada.  
A warm welcome awaits, with coats taken by the attendant, you are then invited to go upstairs (noting the vintage photos of old Azerbaijan on the walls as you make your way up the staircase), where you enter the grand dining area decorated in pure white.
Booking my table ahead, I took advantage of the special online offer for a free cocktail with their set-menu luncheon (via a restaurant guide website, an offer which is available for a limited period of time).
The set menu was more limiting than the a la carte menu (understandably) but nevertheless, it still gave a full overview of Azerbaijani cuisine and what one could expect.  My interpretation of Azerbaijani cuisine would be a fusion of southern Mediterranean with Turkish-esque and Middle Eastern flavours.  This of course ties-in with the geographical positioning of the country and hence those influences are highly evident in the food offering.
My husband had the meat options and I of course had the vegetarian courses which my review will focus on.
As a starter, I had the  Golden raisin & vine leaf dolma with lime crème fraiche which resembled in principle to that of a Greek stuffed vine leaf dolma.  Wrapped snuggly in vine leaves, the lightly spiced rice and golden raisins were sliced into thick rounds which were served with zesty lime creme fraiche which was delicious to dip the dolma in. 
We had some lavash bread to share (similar to Middle Eastern flat breads) which we enjoyed with a sprinkling of sumac – a lemony red spice blend popular in Middle Eastern cooking.  A pot of sumac comes as standard as part of the condiment selection on your table.
For my main, although Wild mushrooms & truffles were listed as the vegetarian option on the set menu, our waiter suggested he could swap that for the Miso grilled aubergine with rocket salad which in honesty, was more preferable.  Served with decorative ginger and a rocket salad, it was endearingly hearty and the miso coating gave the aubergine additional depth.  
Miso Grilled Aubergine with Rocket Salad

We shared a side order of Sautéed green beans & asparagus which we dusted with the sumac condiment - (being totally enamoured with sumac, we couldn’t help but use it on everything)!.
For dessert I had Skinny pakhlava with rose water foam and caramelised pistachio which in principle was like Greek baklava but this version came as crusty thin strips of pastry (as opposed to Greek soft filo pastry) with a honey-nut filling, the delicate rose water foam sweetened the dish delicately.
My husband had the Apple tatin with tonka bean & cinnamon ice cream which was just as nice, with the apples softly baked, but was more substantial than the Skinny pakhlava.
Leaving the white havened dining room, we climbed the spiral staircase to the bar area to enjoy our complimentary cocktails.  In complete contrast to the dining area, the bar furniture and sofas are decorated black with coloured  souk style cushions which adorned the seating. A touch of the homeland featured in the stained glass window dressings which echoes Azerbaijani décor.  

Stained glass window in the bar

Our more-ish cocktails were black tea infused vodka with pomegranate &  ginger and then one that was gin based with raspberries.
Cocktails - Vodka (left) and Gin (right)
A unique place with excellent service and a welcomed introduction to Azerbaijani cuisine (although more vegetarian options would be welcomed).  Baku is another example of London’s broad restaurant scene making it ideal for day trippers, weekend breaks, business lunches or just because you want something different. 

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