Plate With A View: Villa Sikandra, Burkina Faso
Saturday 08 April 2006
Jean-Jacques Beylac, French poet, jurist, psychologist and restaurateur, arrived in Burkina Faso at the behest of the French Embassy in 1998 to work with prison children. He was so taken with the "land of honourable men", as the name of the country, formerly Upper Volta, translates, that he never left. Villa Sikandra is his singular, delicate impression of the city's landscape. Part art gallery, part restaurant, the Villa's menu is as charismatic, inventive and flamboyant as the owner: intricate starters offer rich tastes in small packages (salads of never-ending ingredients; tangy carpaccio of Nile perch; half-moons of goat's cheese and pear on toast). Delicious mains rely on good cuts of local meat - tender zebu steak with chèvre and mint sauce; pork chops glazed in honey. Desserts are suitably decadent, with thick chocolate-orange gateau, and mangoes fresh from overhanging branches.
The dusty, moped-choked streets of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, evaporate amid a cathedral of camp, as much a feast for the eyes as the tastebuds. At this West African crossroads, global cultures collide: a dribbling fountain is guarded by a gaudily golden statue of Poseidon, a saffron-robed Buddha presides over the leafy garden, while Puccini arias and local musicians compete for the ear. This is Beylac's realisation of an African vision of "Sikandra", the Indian temple near the Taj Mahal built for Akbar, an eccentric emperor whose outlook was as eclectic as it was secular. His resting place blends marble and sandstone; Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Christian motifs and styles.
At the restaurant, the clash lives on: waiters pad around in kaftans, and an in-house tailor can take measurements, rustling up Japanese kimonos made of colourful Nigerian cotton prints while you wait. Contemporary art, all for sale, adorns the walls, mixing caricatures of national political figures with visions of the sandy scrubland and village life.
Set in a series of traditional homes, with Ethiopian and local Kassena mud architecture in dazzling ochre hues, outside dining is on low wood tables (including two on the roof) under individual muslin-swathed canopies. Far away from the streetlights, this conjures the stillness of the Sahel.
Burkina may be the world's third-poorest country, but expect to pay quasi-First World prices. A three-course meal for two, with wine from France or North Africa, costs around 40,000CFA (£42).
Villa Sikandra, Cissin, Ouagadougou (00 226 76 50 91 68; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
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