Thursday, 28 January 2010

Arrastre de pub

Tolosa Caliente (also known as "Toro")
I've been put off eating here for some time now after an encounter with the owner. But since there isn't much in the way of Spanish cooking in town (Alkimia has closed down, due to bad management rather than bad cooking I suspect) I thought I'd put my head in and try a few tapas prior to a pub crawl. How bad can it be?

Not bad actually. We're not talking La Cuchara de Santelmo here, but they seem to make do pretty well with what is available in Dakar. Steering away from the hams - they're only going to disappoint - The Juicer and I share 5 plates between us as we wait for the rest of our cuadrilla to arrive. Our tortilla is dense and studded with proper bacon, but a touch overcooked considering it was fresh out of the kitchen. Mini-beef brochettes are respectably rare, while classic brochettes of monkfish and chorizo are almost perfect (Let down by the quality of local chorizo). Pinchos of bread and anchovies "Marseille" are a bit puzzling, with the anchovies not really packing much of a punch, while squid is just a touch overcooked, but heavily over heated with chillies. On-the-house aceitunas are marinated in parsley and garlic, and are some of the best in town.

A mixed bag then, but that's the fun with tapas. Anchovies not up to scratch? Doesn't matter - try some of the brochettes. The bar itself is pretty inviting as well, with smart service, wines by the half bottle, and a good selection of single malts, Tolosa Caliente makes a great prelude to a nine hour drinking session (for example).

Tolosa Caliente
Route de l'aeroport
Tel: 77 435 65 16
Open 12pm to 3pm and 7.30pm until midnight.

Old Favourite

I've always been fond of La Terrasse de Ouakam. There seems to be a bit of commitment in the kitchen - to strong French cooking and quality ingredients. Unfortunately it had often been let down by odd imperfections. Prawn shells buried in your prawn and avocado cocktail and that sort of thing.

It's been a while since I last went, and I've had a few good reports since the start of the year, so decided to gather together a couple of willing sybarites for a proper dinner. A proper grown-ups dinner where you expect to roll, sated and drunk from the table having dined leisurely and long.

Service is from an old pal from La Fiesta, who keeps things nicely paced, and even manages not to annoy me when topping up the wine. The man clearly has a gift. Our sharpeners come swiftly accompanied by soft cheesy feuillette reminiscent of Greek bourekaki.

Outside on the terrace (inside is a little gloomy, despite the boutique stylings) the extensive menu is displayed on a huge whiteboard, with odd specials hiding on smaller blackboards among the foliage. Normally I'd worry about such a long menu, but since it changes according to what is in (pork, duck and rabbit at the moment), the usual rules don't apply.

Snails come swimming in a creamy, buttery sauce which might otherwise be overwhelmlngly rich were it not for the hint of tarragon lending a licorice lightness to it. Deep fried goats cheese with poached pears is also lighter than expected, with the fluffy chevre melting deliciously on the tongue. My carpaccio of smoked magret comes in a bright and generous portion with a dollop of fig jam. On the plate, the carpaccio is odourless, but then when each slice hits your palette there is a gentle Double-Gloucester style whiff of the farmyard, followed quickly by a mild smokiness which doesn't overpower the duck.

Compared with the fist-sized lumps of succulent suckling pig on my companions' plates, my coq au vin looks like a meagre portion. The sauce is a rich reduction though, and the chicken tender and full of flavour - as fine an example of the dish as I've ever hard. The suckling pig is something else though, stuffed with mushrooms and positively radiating piggy goodness. Sides of mashed potato have a few disappointing lumps and bumps, which only goes to prove the chef's French cooking credentials. Why is it that the French can't do mashed potatoes properly?

Stuffed to the gills, we pass on pudding. Our bill, including two bottles of a very appley Muscadet, a couple of Gazelles, gin and tonic, coffees, a tip, and a snifter of Cognac comes to about 20,000FCfa a head. Not bad at all for such a grown up feast.

La Terrasse de Ouakam
31, route de Ouakam
Tel: 33 820 74 07
Open 7 days, 9.30am to 12.30am

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

I haven't been idling, honest.

A happy 2010 then, where I promise to post a little more frequently than I have been in the last few months. There is a backblog of restaurants to clear of course, but I'm going to introduce a few new features this year. Wait and see.

First Dakar dining of the year was at Restaurant La Calebasse in Mamelles, who have recently opened a top floor restaurant above the African Art shop. The shop itself is impressive, hosting several floors of quality antiquities. A cut above the usual tat, with everything the discerning foreigner needs to kit out the villa. My dining companions rate it better than the IFAN museum, which is kind of a shame really. I'm reminded of the Museum of African and Oceanian Art in Paris, and the displays of colonial loot. At least somebody is profiting from it this time I guess, but a shame that much of it is going to end up in the front rooms of non-Africans.

The decor stretches upstairs into the restaurant, which has been kitted out with real attention to detail. In some respects it almost enters 'African theme restaurant' territory, only with proper antiques rather than plaster casts. The terrace is breezy and the dining room is spacious, with a Griot tinkling away unobtrusively on his kora. Staff are helpful to the point of being embarrassingly obsequious - a somewhat inauthentic touch, but welcome anyway. Flatware and cutlery is Laguiole; the cheaper Verdier range I think, otherwise I would have pocketed some (I am a sucker for Laguiole).

I have to admit, I'm not a massive fan of Senegalese food. I'll eat it of course, and am fairly fond of well made daxine, but most restaurant food, and indeed home cooking, is too reliant on large doses of jumbo. At one stage, after eating fully jumbo'd lunches every day for a couple of weeks my wee even started to smell of jumbo. Not good.

Anyhow, Calebasse adopts a cute fine dining theme by presenting us with assorted liqueurs to wet our whistles with, including a bissap concoction that tasted rather like Ribena (the English national drink). Amuse geule in the form of miniature meat pasties are a bit mixed - with one batch being somewhat stodgy and one batch fluffy and soft.

Salady starters are all 6,000 FCfa and mains 8,000 FCfa. All are West African, and each option gives you a breakdown of the ingredients as well as details of the Nationality of the dish. We opt choose from the main courses only.

First off are decent walnut and olive breads. Strips of grilled squid are nicely al dente, and come with a zinging fresh salsa. Chicken is definitely not of the bicyclette variety, and I even enjoy my yassa poulet - largely because it becomes sans jumbo, but also because it hasn't been boiled for 15 hours.

Wine list is perfectly passable, very decently priced with a few South African reds on there for a bit of variety. A minor complaint about water for mint tea being tepid is swiftly corrected, with all of the teas and coffees coming off our bill.

I can see Calebasse being a big hit with the tourists as it is something of a one stop shop. As a gentle introduction into West African cooking it sets a very good example of how things should be - I'd definitely take visitors there. The service is superb as well, but I might not make it one of my regulars.

Restaurant La Calebasse
The following contacts are for the art gallery. The restaurant is very new and doesn't list a number for bookings.
Address: Route des Almadies, sur le goudron au pied du phare des Mamelles
Tel: +221 33 860 69 47

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

A Sausage to India

Sure you can get curry in Dakar, but it usually an insipid Frenchified version, mildly spiced and served with - Cyril Fielding-esque - pasta.

There are two Indian restaurants proper in Dakar, the recently re-opened Zaika, and Indiana:

There isn't much interest in the lunchtime buffet, probably due to Ramadan, so our table of five has the run of the restaurant. 5,000 FCfa gets you half a dozen average curries, cooked on the bone, and an assortment of slightly spongy deep-fried pakora. Roti are pretty good though, and service is friendly. You should see the state of their napkins though - you wound't use them to wipe the floor.

Not bad, for a cheapish buffet lunch, but not somewhere I'd rush to make a booking.

Adjoining the restaurant is a small shop selling spices and a few indian products. It's slightly cheaper than Haldiram's, and sells some of the harder to find items like mustard seeds.

After a long wait - it must be over 18 months - Zaika has finally re-opened. I'm sure what took so long to be honest, as the refurbishments are barely noticable, and the place looks like it could do with, er, a bit of a refit. The toilets are somewhat nearer to the restaurant than before, so no need to take your hiking boots anymore.

Never mind. Mango lassi is inconsistent - a little better the second time round, while curries are about the average UK bottom end of the high street standard. I've had better biriyani elsewhere, although the tandoori chicken and fish come up to scratch. Samosas come shaped like cornish pasties, and are a bit heavy, but otherwise OK.

Of the two, Zaika is the better in terms of quality of food, and cleanliness of table linen. Don't expect too much from Zaika, but when you've been without a proper curry for a while, it might just satisfy the craving.

Radisson Blu

How do we pronounce this exactly? Is it blu as in bleu, or blur, or bleurgh?

Blu looks nice enough, all slaty coloured tiles and impressive thingies. The atrium is an eyecatching surprise as you enter the hotel from the top down, all hanging bits of fibre-optic (clearly inspired by the power lines outside my house) and fancy ikea lamps. Poolside is impressive too, with a dark blue (blu?) infinity pool that is already proving popular with Lebanese teenagers as a high profile heavy petting spot.

It has three sort of restaurants. Perhaps three menus is a more appropriate description. The flagship is the Filini Italian restaurant, the kind of blanded out upmarket restaurant you can find in five-star joints anywhere in the world. There is a more generic international menu served poolside, or you can sit indoors in some sort of weird corridor arrangement and tuck into club sandwiches and chicken wings.

The menu at Fillini's actually looks promising. There is none of the tedious pasta-pizza-steaknchips stuff one might normally expect, instead fillini's goes gently off piste with some interesting seafood options. The option is there for those who want the fully orchestrated multi-course Italian style blowout, but that would require both a thick waist and a thicker wallet.

Breads - onion foccacia, brown sliced, and grissini - are very good indeed, and I hope the in-house bakery will open to the public sometime soon. Mixed meat and vegetable antipasti are reasonable, with green beans in mint proving to be the star player. Pizzas are pretty good, but double the price of equally fine pizzas elsewhere in town.

Mrs Jiffler's risotto comes stacked with juicy prawns and a decent saffron punch, but tell tale white spots on the rice give away hasty cooking - surprising given the 40 minute wait in an almost empty restaurant.

Over at the poolside bar they knock out a very fine hamburger indeed. Cooked rare as requested and served with a robust, no-nonsense, toasted sesame bun. The burgers come with those little jarred condiments that they serve at every upmarket hotel in the tropics. The sort that visiting mothers of the Road to Wigan Pier generation like to slip into their handbags for later. Barracuda steak is tasty too, despite being hidden under a fizzy green salad toupe studded with the occasional shock anchovy nugget.

If I were to judge the Radisson on the quality of its food alone then things would be reasonably positive. You get decent food at a five-star price, what else should one expect? Well, one would expect decent coffee for 3,000FCfa, not insipid frothless cappuccino. At 7,000FCfa a pop I'd expect properly mixed cocktails made from quality spirits and fresh fruits. Most of all I'd expect a decent. Even after a couple of months to settle down the staff are not co-ordinated, customers have to play musical chairs, drinks don't arrive, bills don't arrive, change doesn't arrive... Little jars of mustard and piment and starched napkins don't make a five star hotel restaurant.

You can enjoy the pool for 10,000 FCfa/day
Weekend poolside + buffet is 28,000 FCfa

Radisson Blu Hotel, Dakar
Route de la Corniche ouest

Tel: +221 33 869 33 33

Restaurant News:
Indian restaurant Zaika has reopened on the Corniche. Check for a review soon.

The Ecole Superieure Gastronomique Hoteliere Arnaud has reopened on Allees Seydou Nourou Tall. Hopefully they'll still be turning out bargain lunches (Tel:+ 221 33 869 92 92).

Anyone tried the new 'J'Go' restaurant up in Almadies (Route de Ngor)? I had a look in on the opening night, but the place was filled with mediocre celebrities, and various poorly dressed members of the Dakar nightclub "set". Mrs Jiffler and I were given short shrift, possibly because we didn't have enough gold writing on our clothes.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

This place is rubbish, let's slash the seats.

Les Maquis des Allees
Sometimes when you walk into a place you just get good vibes straight away. Everything seems to be in it's right place: the music is good, staff are smiling, there is some activity at the bar. Your brain solves a very complex equation very quickly and you end up thinking 'Yeah, I like it here', or 'This place is rubbish, lets slash the seats'.

I like Les Maquis des Allees. I like the lack of pretention in the menu, I like the sous-verre style flag advert by the bar, I like the friendly staff, and I particularly like cocktails at 3,000 FCfa a pop.

The chef cares about what comes out of the kitchen, and comes out of the kitchen himself to check that all is going to plan. Don't expect gastronomic miracles, as this is still a maquis, and the occasional stale baguette is bound to find its way into circulation. But do expect decent quality meat, cooked with attention. The chef also knows how to handle a pizza oven, and the pizza bases here are almost flammkuchen thin, with the undersides marked by the occasional burnt black spots - about as perfect as you can get in Dakar. Sadly the toppings are overloaded and the tomato sauce is a little bit sweet. Order a pizza and tell the chef what you think, you never know, by the end of the hivernage he might have it spot on.

Les Maquis des Allees
Villa 4028
Alles Seydou Nourou Tall
Tel: 765 290041
Open 12-3 and 7 to Midnight. Closed Sunday and Monday lunchtime.

Given its middle class status and popularity with Ex-pats Mermoz is a bit short on restaurants and nightlife. By day, Kubata is a standard Thieb eatery, with simple lunches hovering around the 2,000 FCfa mark. Service is friendly and reasonably quick although the restaurant can get a little hot when the power goes off. Not worth going out of your way for, but a good example of its type nonetheless.

By night, Kubata hosts live music, and is gathering a decent local reputation. It's the kind of place where you might go to have a cheap evening out without wanting to get too messy.


Comico2 Mermoz Pyrotechnie
Villa No 59
77 585 25 63
860 47 93

Le Point E
Le Point E is a simliar joint in, surprisingly, Point E. Live music evenings here are few and far between, but it is worth a visit for splendid lunchtime plats. The daily menu usually offers two or three dishes (usually meat or fish) and sometimes dibi. The Senegalese food is as good as you will get outside of a family home, and it's the kind of place where you can comfortably take foreign visitors for a taste of Senegal.

Weekday lunches are always busy with a mix of local residents, office workers and the occasional group of foreign journalists. Service is quick and friendly, and most dishes come in at under 2,500 FCfa.

Le Point E
Rue de Thies
Point E

Restaurant News:
The Radisson Blu has been open for business for a couple of weeks now. The review should be up next week. I can't yet decide whether to kill it quick, and then dance about on its grave, or to linger over a slow and cruel death.

Monday, 6 July 2009

No lollipops?

La Provence
If you're male, there is something strangely democratic about the maquis of Dakar (although I'm told they're not a patch on the super maquis of Abidjan). Who knows who you'll find at the bar - a shopkeeper, drug smuggler, politician, teacher? Female customers seem to be a bit thinner on the ground, and are often working in one way or another.

La Provence on Seydou Nourou Tall has just had something of a refit, with the new restaurant kitted out in the style of 'Former Soviet hotel breakfast room'. Head for the darker barroom for a little more atmosphere, where you'll find drunks watching silent TV news, Congolese beats on the stereo, plastic table cloths and dimmed lights. They have a doorman, which is a good sign that things will start to get livelier later on.

The menu is lengthy, and Mrs Jiffler tentatively orders fahitas. We know it's unlikely they'll have them, but sometimes you can be surprised. The waitress returns and informs us that the new chef only knows how to cook three things: Brochettes, steaks, and fried fish.

Our table tries one of everything, accompanied by cold Gazelle and stories about the aforementioned Former Soviet hotel breakfast rooms. The food arrives and I'm magically transported by the smell to another era. However limited the abilities of the chef, she has somehow managed to recreate the exact smell of a 1980s Little Chef. I'm overwhelmed by childhood memories of the 'popular' British roadside diner, and have a sudden craving for an overpriced toasted teacake and an Olympic feast breakfast.

1980s reverie aside, the chef wasn't strictly telling the truth when she said she could cook a steak. My specimen comes hammered to minute steak thickness and cooked until grey. It resembles the leather tongue from an old pair of hiking boots in both appearance and texture, while its taste is thankfully hidden behind a wall of sauce pebble-dashed with peppercorns. Chips are OK, a bit oily, but at least the oil is fresh.

In this neck of the woods, I'd say you're better off at Maquis des Alles just up the road. Watch out for a review soon.

La Provence
Allees Seydou Nourou Tall
Tel: 77 645 97 78
Open seven days. 7am to midnight, until 1am Friday and Saturday.