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
Web: http://www.art-afrik.com/

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