Sunday, January 3, 2016

Restaurant Destroyed by Muslim Suicide Blast Was Rated #2 in Kabul by TripAdvisor

Models at a Le Jardin charity event, shortly after the restaurant's opening in 2012

On New Year's day, a Kabul restaurant was targeted by a suicide blast. Two innocents were killed, though the death toll could have been far higher. The tight security (described in a few of the reviews below) worked, at least to an extent. One source had a bomber detonating a suicide vest as he was being frisked--killing a guard. A car bomb then went off at the entrance, injuring twenty-five. Shrapnel from the explosion killed a twelve-year-old boy playing in the street.

Le Jardin was rated the #2 restaurant in Kabul by TripAdvisor. Is that a more important fact than that two innocent human beings lost their lives? Of course not. But it puts the recent acceleration of violence and terror in the city in perhaps a bit more perspective. Kabul hasn't been a safe city in over a generation, but the last bits of quasi-normalcy are now in the process of being snuffed out.

I've reprinted a number of TripAdvisor reviews--many of them recent--and also included some photographs from the site. These are positive photographs taken by tourists. At the bottom of the post there will be a few not so happy photographs.

With beer at $10 a glass (or rather, with beer at all), some might claim that this is not a place for the typical Kabul resident. If that annoys you, stop reading here. Or maybe you should ask yourself, why shouldn't the typical Kabul resident aspire to be able to (at least once in a while) have a beer in a nice restaurant? Wasn't that what we were fighting for? Or do you think Afghans only exist to pose for National Geographic, play polo with people's heads and get blown up?        

Reading the reviews makes me sad. The restaurant was an "oasis in the middle of a weary city." It seems unlikely it will ever reopen. Indeed, the owners were apparently warned by the Taliban that this would be their fate if they continued to operate. And now, many residents appear to be blaming foreigners and the establishments that cater to them for their current woes, which is of course one reason why the Taliban targets them. 

In the reviews one gets a sense of Kabul life, for foreigners at least--the "compounds"  and "camps" with their different "security policies". One reviewer writes, "If you go nowhere else in Kabul outside your compound, come here." Well, so much for that.

Reviewed 2 weeks ago

Great place to go for western food. Great location in an out of the way place. Just down the street from a senior Afghan government officer so relatively secure. Good security. Building is like a US Southwestern restaurant. Great courtyard for dining out on warm days. Wood fireplaces inside. Very nice.

Reviewed October 25, 2015
Le Jardin is one of the few western restaurants still open in Kabul and well worth trying for its good food and oasis-like ambiance. My wife and I always look forward to the cheese stick appetizers and usually get the Thai beef salad, the duck dish or the salmon pasta. We haven't had a bad meal here and that's saying something for the options available in Kabul these days. In the summers especially, the garden is full of roses and even various small pet birds and cats strutting around. All-in-all a fine oasis in this tense city.
Reviewed September 4, 2015
This place serves the best beef burgers in kabul !! Absolutely amazing . If you want to enjoy your lunch or dinner in open air, than this is the best and most stylish French restaurant !

Reviewed July 21, 2015
This is a really lovely restaurant, and offers a delightful selection of food. Breakfast is particularly pleasant with fresh pastries, coffee, juice and hot items. The garden is a delight and offers an escape from the busy city where you can unwind and feel at peace with the world!

Reviewed July 10, 2015
I went to Le Jardin with a couple of colleagues on a cold winter night. The road leading to the restaurant was bump, as are all most side roads in the city; and when the car stopped outside a big, gloomy building, I though my colleague had lost his mind bringing us to this place. Going in from one security door to another, and I was in utter shock- the interior was absolutely stunning. I had to remind myself again and again that I was indeed in Kabul. They have beautiful kilims displayed on the walls, as well as gorgeous painting by local artists, all of it for sale actually. They were also selling beautiful jewelry and handicrafts from Turquoise mountain which was an added bonus. The food for me wasn't anything special to be honest- I had the chicken breast with tagliatelle, one colleague had a burger and the other a tuna roll. I thought it to be over priced. The restaurant does serve beer (its not on the menu and you have to ask for it), but its $10 a glass (no, not even a pint), but its nice and chilled. All in all the only reason that takes me back is the ambiance and the interior as opposed to the food. But then again, when you have limited options in Kabul, you take what you can get ;)

Reviewed November 2, 2013
Security being what it is in Kabul you don't have a wide choice of places to eat. And yet it is amazing that this place is not better known. A large and beautiful garden with a smart, stylish French restaurant, and fantastic carpets all round the walls. I can't think of anything better. There's even a glass of wine if you can afford the steep price for a rather average bottle. But this is Afghanistan after all. The food was excellent, with imaginative twists on traditional dishes (a goat's cheese tart, pumpkin soup, veal fricassee, roast lamb, a vegetarian lasagna), wonderful bread and nibbles. Service was efficient and professional, if a little dour. But the most remarkable thing, apart from the fact that the place exists at all, was the carpets. In many years of trawling from one carpet shop to another (in Karachi, Peshawar, Kathmandu, Marrakesh, etc.) I am used to discovering, perhaps, one fine old rug among thousands of very average new or run of the mill ones. And to find someone who knows and is passionate about carpets, without constantly trying to flog you rubbish is almost unheard of. But this place has a sample of carpets from the Herat Carpet Center on Chicken St (the shop and the street are both well worth the risk), selected by Wahid Abdullah, the owner. There are other handicrafts as well as dried rose petals from the garden. If you go nowhere else in Kabul outside your compound, come here.

Reviewed January 8, 2013
Words are difficult to describe things that are amazing. Well, sometimes after a few months in Kabul a soft donut or a solid road can be considered amazing, but seriously Le Jardin is truly out of this world or Kabul—whichever you prefer. You travel down Street 9 from the main road and it seems like a normal residential area, until the pavement stops and your back on bumpy dirt, rocks and in winter—ice. At first it seems you’re traveling into the familiar local Government ignored portions of the city which are littering Kabul, but quickly the ever so familiar solid steel vehicle gate can be seen and an inviting chowkidda waiting to grant you access to stage 1 of security. Once inside, you’re greeted by one of the restaurant staff and quickly escorted to a table. In the summer or spring months, sitting outside is my preference, but during my recent visit we sat inside amongst beautifully draped carpets on the walls, wonderful high wooden ceilings and next to a wood burning heater. Now, I have tried many things on the menu and have not found anything I could say I do not like. My most favorite are the peppered steak with garlic tortellini and ratatouille and a chicken Caesar salad as an appetizer. If you’ve been craving a real coffee from an espresso machine then you can get your fix here. I had resorted for travelling to Ciano’s on one of the many NATO camps, but I am well satisfied with a coffee from Le Jardin. Take the time and go if your security policy allows you too.
This is what "Street 9" looked like yesterday. Tragically, TripAdvisor says that Le Jardin is "OPEN NOW".
War did this. America did this. Extremism did this. Islam did this. Take your pick. You know where I stand. But in one sense at least it's academic. Le Jardin is no more.  

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this poignant window into the demise of a graceful little establishment teetering on the edge of a stinking diabolical earthly Gehenna. Lord have mercy on the innocents killed and maimed.