No, I’ve never been to Azerbaijan either
I’ve never been to Azerbaijan and it’s a safe bet that you haven’t either, unless you were especially adventurous during your gap year travels. If the menu of the imaginatively-named Azerbaijan restaurant in north Finchley is any indication however, Azerbaijani food isn’t that different from Turkish and Persian cuisine. This isn’t surprising given the close geographic proximity of the two countries, but it’s a little disappointing if you’re hoping for a culinary adventure.
Still, Veal Smasher, Porn Master, Templeton Peck and I did discover that Finchley’s Azerbaijan restaurant is a surprisingly well-decorated place. It’s not especially distinctive looking, but it’s elegant enough and comfortable too. The clientele seems to consist mostly of local families and couples, which made our collective bickering, loud expletives and lewd stories all the more incongruous. The service was polite to a fault and handled our slightly uncouth behaviour with astonishing grace.
The menu is dizzyingly confusing until you suss out that almost everything is either a variation on a kebab or a stew. Most of the Extras, for example, are merely additional helpings of meat. The one part of the menu, other than the desserts, that isn’t dominated by kebabs and stews is the starters. The paneer salad was really just a few chunks of feta alongside a large heap of unmixed but very fresh tarragon, mint and whole radishes as well as some soft walnuts. Refreshing.
The Azerbaijan Special starter consists of grilled aubergine topped with minced lamb, tomato and cheese. The effect is somewhat similar to that of a pizza and pleasing enough.
Porn Master and Veal Smasher shared the gargantuan mix grill platter. The serving plate heaved under the weight of chicken wings, kofte-like lamb kebabs, medallions of chicken fillet and slightly dry, offaly chunks of shish-like lamb pieces. The highlights were the chicken and the kofte lamb which were moist with a mildly buttery-style glaze that was pleasing enough.
Templeton Peck’s chelo kebab momtaz was essentially a less artery-choking version of the platter, consisting of the kofte and chicken fillet medallions. While Veal Smasher opted for the naan, which was thin and crisp, Templeton Peck and Porn Master had rice instead. Porn Master’s shireen polo was almost overpoweringly sweet due the presence of honey and oranges, but Templeton’s morasa polo was only subtly sweet and nutty – the promised pistachios, almonds, berries, oranges and raisins were hard to discern.
My khoresht gheymeh bademjan stew consisted of a mass of soft split peas dotted with a few chunks of tender lamb striped with connective tissue. Place on top was a slice of aubergine that did little to liven up what was an inoffensively stodgy stew. Although large, I somehow found room for an additional skewer of lamb kofte from the Extras section of the menu – indeed almost all the Extras are merely extra portions of kebabs.
The ayran was thinner and more bitter than the Turkish ayran that I’m used to. The yoghurt drink here was topped with a sprinkling of dried berries, but to no great effect. All three of my dining companions were disappointed with the K1 beer. Allegedly a Central Asian brew, but made in the UK, Templeton Peck found the metallic taste extremely unpalatable while Porn Master thought it smelled like a headache. Thankfully, a more drinkable Efes is also available bottled.
Porn Master and Veal Smasher somehow found the room for the zulbia bamieh, a sort of Persian doughnut. Although they liked the crisp exterior, soft interior and strong sweetness, I found the oily aftertaste extremely unpleasant.
Oddly, Templeton Peck’s baklava was sliced into relatively thin strips. It was plain and a touch too firm, lacking the sweet delicate nutty flakiness that I prefer but it was palatable enough.
Although not as bad as the zulbia bamieh, my own dessert of faloudeh wasn’t far behind. The extremely icy clump of rice noodles had an overbearing taste of rose water. If it wasn’t for the muggy weather outside, I doubt I could’ve finished it.
Azerbaijan’s kebabs are pleasant enough, but they’re hardly exceptional leaving little reason to visit this restaurant unless you’re a local that can’t be bothered to make the reasonably short trip to Green Lanes. Even then you’d have to put up with the tediously confusing menu, disastrous desserts and somewhat iffy drinks. I really wouldn’t bother.
What to order: The kebabs.
What to skip: The desserts.
Name: Azerbaijan Restaurant
Address: 330 Ballards Lane, North Finchley, London N12 0EV
Phone: 020 8445 1102
Web: none (although oddly there is a website for Hammersmith’s Azerbaijan Restaurant which has an identical logo, mascot and menu at http://www.azerbaijanrestaurant.com)
Opening Hours: seven days a week noon-midnight
Reservations: not necessary
Average cost for one person including drinks when shared between four: £25-30 approx.