On a fashionably-located ‘graveyard’ site, on a first floor in Knighsbridge, the capital’s only Azerbaijani restaurant of any grandeur; our pleasant visit notwithstanding, we have difficulty seeing how the formula will attract a broad local following.
Okay, we admit it. It was primarily a sense of morbid curiosity which drew us to this first-floor dining room in the heart of Knightsbridge, on a site that’s already seen off four famous chefs in living memory. What chance for an establishment which specialises in the cuisine of Azerbaijan?
Initial impressions were as we hoped/feared. The approach through a series of hushed chambers, and up the stairs, is as odd as ever – it might work for a club (as which the building was originally conceived), but you’re going to have to offer a knock-out ‘value’ proposition to create any sort of real following for a restaurant dining room with so many obvious drawbacks – hidden-away on an upper floor, on a windswept stretch of a mega-pricey, but bizarrely characterless, shopping thoroughfare. (Surely, if you’re trying to spend this sort of money, Bond Street is so much nicer?)
One traditional way of getting a bit of a lunchtime following in a potentially dead room is to offer a set menu (of which the beancounters of the Harden’s empire are, for some reason, inordinately fond). None such is of offer here, so your single reporter had to choose his own modest lunch, in a bright room which – in the darkest days of January – was barely occupied.
The repast consisted of blinis (pancake parcels, attractively presented), pasta-and-beef in a broth, with a very good side dish of vegetables and chestnuts, and, for pudding, that old Azerbaijani stand-by – a soufflé. Everything was good. but – if you leave out the welcoming yoghourt drink, the crudités and the bread, all in standard Turkish/Lebanese style – there’s not much strikingly ‘ethnic’ about the experience of dining here. Rather, we like to imagine that the experience is as you might hope to find in a grandish new hotel in Baku (the country’s capital).
By local, London, standards we could see nothing really ‘wrong’ with the formula, and, judged by ‘Richistan’ standards, the menu prices are not out of line. Indeed, some aspects of the operation – such as the charm of the service, and the relatively gentle starting prices on the wine list – are a positive attraction.
But is all this enough to oust the evil spirits that have so far hounded four top toques out of this dining room in pretty quick succession? We can’t honestly see it.