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Since taking independence in 1991, Kazakhstan has not only prospered economically but opened its doors to some of the best of what the western world has to offer. The southern capital, Almaty, is not only the brain-centre of the Kazakh economic revolution but a place of leisure for well over a million people, many of whom are content to spend some of their free time simply chilling out in a café.
Anybody resident here for more than a few years will have noticed the café revolution that has redefined leisure time in this thriving post-Soviet state. People living here for more than five or six years will know that even in 2005, only a handful of quality establishments were operating. And those who knew Almaty a decade ago will remember that one of the very first to open was Biskvit Café, part of the birth of Kazakh café culture.
Biskvit occupies a peaceful location just off one of the most significant streets in town and is near to many other things to do. The décor is modern and the design tasteful with service of a similarly high standard while also non-intrusive. The layout of the two rooms affords diners privacy and comfort with the famous Biskvit sofas at almost every table, at which up to six or seven people often stay for hours to enjoy what many believe to be the best café in Kazakhstan. Opening is from 9:00 till 01:00 and from 10:00 til 01:00 at weekends and on public holidays.
What makes Biskvit so good is its atmosphere, either sitting inside or outside is a relaxing experience away from the typical noise of a busy city. For whatever reason the diverse clientele choose to go, be it romance, excitement or even business, the ambience is perfect. The usual coffee bar sounds blend in with the background music to give the café part of its charm, in part why it is so often full of not only local people but others from all corners of the globe. The Biskvit welcome extends to everybody. Staff are personable and give customers their time and attention.
The menu, updated every six months, is interesting both in design and content. The pages, fashioned to look like a magazine, are full of delicacies which often spoil customers for choice. The highly professional chef is very particular about what goes both in the menu and then to the tables. The most popular options are probably the delicious cakes and amazing desserts but a range of breakfasts, hot dishes and salads also do the café justice. Customers come again and again for these alone. Worth a special mention are the different types of pancakes, highly recommended. Beverages complete the choices, coffees and teas seemingly unlimited, especially during the colder months when a wide range of refreshing hot drinks are on offer.
The wide-screen televisions both inside and outside, and the selection of shishas (kalyan - for which there is a separate room) are optional extras, perhaps a first choice for many, but the magic of Biskvit Café is not just what is served. It is the whole package, that elusive blend of relaxation and fun, liveliness and quiet, privacy and friendliness that makes each guest's experience unique.
In English there is a saying that the highest form of flattery is mimicry. This means that there is no greater compliment than for others to copy you. That there are hundreds of cafes in Kazakhstan today owes very much to the changing face of the country and its cities. But it all had to start somewhere. And even ten years later, Biskvit is still arguably the very best.