TALLINN - We've all seen those old adventure films where parched legionnaires stagger through the Sahara on the verge of collapse, then by some miracle they spot an oasis and - hallelujah! - they're all saved. If the unlucky soldiers were to stumble into Tallinn's Oasis Club restaurant however, I'd have to recommend they stumble right back out again and take their chances on the dunes.
I'm a huge fan of Middle-Eastern cuisine, so when I saw this new restaurant's sign and the faux Arabic designs painted on the windows a few weeks ago, I knew I had to put this one on my list. I finally made it down there with a friend on a recent Saturday evening.
I must say that when we arrived, my first impressions were positive. We were seated in a tastefully decorated, canopy-covered booth. The colorful, Arabic-style interior somehow fit right in to this Old Town foyer, and even went a long way to compensate for the restaurant's main design obstacle - the hulking staircase that dominates the dining room.
The point everything started to unravel was when the menu arrived. Who translates these menus into English anyway? When the first item I saw was something called "mutton flesh sausages," I started to wonder. And the more I read, the more baffled I became. It quickly became clear that, despite the Middle-Eastern music, interior, and the hubbly bubblies (which you can order for 130 kroons (8 euros) a shot), this isn't a Middle-Eastern restaurant at all. Exactly what it is though is anybody's guess.
After some inquiry, the waitress explained that it was simply "Eastern," in the broadest sense of the term. Reading through the list of what was actually on offer revealed very few items with identifiable countries of origin. Aside from pork shashlik, something even the most humble post-Soviet cafe can churn out, a few items boasting Thai sauce, and one or two dishes with a side of couscous, it was hard to see anything that was "Eastern" about this at all.
The a la carte menu section consisted of fairly ordinary sounding dishes in the 75 kroon - 150 kroon range. This was followed by a list of "Eastern delights," more involved choices in the 180 kroon - 300 kroon zone. Inexplicably, most of these were even less "Eastern" than everything else, unless Elk and wild boar are popular in Cambodia. I mean, which Eastern country serves ostrich steak with blueberry? Or pigeon on a spit for that matter?
My worst fears were confirmed when the waitress returned to tell us that the calamari rings we'd ordered as an appetizer were unavailable. And when the same happened with the second appetizer, the scene was on the verge of becoming Monty Pythonesque. The waitress, who was at least genuinely helpful, suggested khachapuri - cheese-filled bread. This turned out to be the best part of our meal.
The entrees were highly disappointing, especially for the somewhat hefty prices. My friend had the rabbit, which was so tough she resorted to using her hands to pry the scant meat off the bones. My grilled trout was also beyond chewy. It was served with Thai sauce that could have come from a jar, and a side of some squishy stuff I couldn't identify. It might have been overcooked couscous.
Clearly this is a restaurant with ideas way above its station. The great location, interesting interior and friendly staff are wasted with a vague menu concept that just doesn't work.
On the bright side, Oasis Club is open 24 hours, which you should keep in mind the next time you get a craving for pigeon at 4 a.m. But if this place is an oasis, then I'm a French legionnaire. o
Tel: 620 92 23
Open 24 hours