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