Would it be as much fun eating here if it wasn’t so hard to get to? Of course not. The double-take at the unmarked door at 17 Rue Bleue, the struggle with the entryphone (you don’t need to punch a number, just push the call button), the bemused scamper across the quiet internal courtyard, the furrowed eyebrows at the signs in Armenian script and the shoulder-shrugging climb up a twisting staircase in the direction of the smell of food – it all adds up to a meal out with the thrill of finding a genuine hidden treasure. Especially when what could be an unnerving journey ends with a brilliantly sunny welcome from the proprietress of the canteen at La Maison de la Culture Arménienne, who clucks over you and calls you chéri as she trots back and forth from kitchen (manned by her husband) to dining room. It’s not a high-end operation, of course, but the basic dining room with its trinkets and Armenian flags, the jolly tables of regulars swapping stories and above all the cheap, good food all add up to a place of particular charm.
Armenia’s peculiar history and geography give a certain romance to its cuisine. A country of green plateaus and grey-blue mountains, its national symbols are the apricot and the pomegranate – at once rich and fresh, colourful and filled with symbolism. Persecution by the Turks before the First World War and uneasy relationships with Russia and Azerbaijan today mean that Armenians have a huge and varied population in diaspora; their food is one of many fiercely protected symbols of home. Here, there’s no menu, just a selection of classics recited table-side. Things like salty, unctuous seu beureg cheese pastries, comforting meaty ravioli, slow-cooked, delicately spiced chicken and smoky, velvety beef-stuffed aubergines with a hint of char, nestled on a bed of rice and vermicelli and flanked by a spanking fresh salad. These are soothing, heartening, homely dishes, found after an adventure and served wreathed in smiles, at just €10 a throw. A treat.
|Venue name:||Maison de la Culture Arménienne|
17 rue Bleue
|Opening hours:||Mon-Sat 12pm-3pm, 7pm-9pm|