By Jo Cookey
Since returning from Marrakech I have been craving Moroccan food. I miss the subtly spiced, unctuous meat that just falls off the bone when you lift the lid of your terracotta tagine. Flavoursome vegetable dishes, full of pumpkin, courgettes and aubergine, scattered with jewel like pomegranate seeds. Soft, fluffy couscous like nothing I have ever had in England. Sweet, crispy filo pastries full of creamy vanilla infused crème patisserie. Nutritious, fragrant, juicy figs dripping in wild flower honey.
A Welcome Invitation
So it came as a blessed delight when Amine and Otto, owners of the Liverpool restaurant, Kasbah, invited us over to sample their authentic Moroccan cuisine. Both chaps are Moroccan by birth so if anyone knows this North African fare they do. They also own the Lebanese cafes, Bakchich in Liverpool and Manchester, as well as several other concerns.
We caught the train to Lime Street and arrived on a very sunny Bold Street with time to wander up and scope out the other offerings. There is quite a little foodie quarter growing here and every establishment was bustling and busy with Saturday shoppers.
Looking at the front door of Kasbah I was immediately transported back to Marrakech. Heavy, dark wood decorated in the traditional Moroccan style and furnished with ornate brass door furniture. The inside is decked out in the same traditional style with a plethora of beautifully ornate and colourful lamps hanging from the ceiling and the place feels very cosy and intimate.
Spoilt For Choice
We were seated by the manager and ordered a jug of Moroccan lemonade with mint and limes whilst we perused the menu. Gosh, what to chose? There are lots of hot and cold starter options which you can also eat tapas style if you didn’t want a large main course. In the end, between the two of us we chose Tabouleh , a dish of couscous, cucumber, tomatoes, parsley, onions, olive oil & lemon juice at £3.95, which was fresh and lively on the palate and packed with chopped herbs. The Hummous, a chickpea, lemon and garlic dip served with Moroccan flatbread at £3.95, was just as it should be, nutty, not too thick and not too thin, garlicky and cut with lemon. Finally we plumped for the Moroccan Meatballs at £4.95 . These are homemade minced meatballs, cooked in tomato sauce with fresh herbs and also served with Moroccan bread and were really tasty.
Just as we started to tuck in Amine and Otto arrived and after greeting us warmly they sat down for a chat. I was eager to confirm the rumours I had heard that Kasbah was coming to Manchester and was delighted to be told that it was indeed true and that the guys are currently looking for the right location. I hope they find the right building quickly so I can get my Moroccan food fix whenever I want.
Moroccans are generous to a fault, both with their hospitality and their food and as Amine obviously didn’t think we had enough food on the table, he ordered us two more dishes. Briouats Lala Zhour at £4.95, are delicious little filo pastry parcels, (akin in looks to a skinny Spring Roll), filled with cheese and olives and served with sweet tomato & chilli chutney. Then Zaalouk at £3.95, an aubergine puree with tomatoes & garlic, served with Moroccan bread. All the dishes were delicious and we hoovered them up but now my companion and I were getting worried that we wouldn’t fit in the mains we had ordered.
After a breather and more chatting, Amine and Otto waved goodbye and disappeared next door to look in on their chicken restaurant, Koop. Our mains arrived and we took a deep breath and dived in. I had ordered the Tagine De Fez at £10.95, a generous serving of slow cooked lamb shoulder, marinated in saffron and Ras el Hanout, served with caramelised prunes, roasted almonds and apricots. This was Moroccan food heaven to me. When the lid of my tagine was lifted the air was filled steamy, spiced aromas, as the dish itself bubbled in its pot. This food was straight out of the oven, no microwave pings here and it tasted as good as it smelt. In case you are wondering what Ras el Hanout is, the name means ‘Head of the Shop’ and it is a blend of spices peculiar to North African cuisine that is chosen and mixed by the owner of individual spice shops. Every spice shop has it’s own blend and consequently no two mixes are ever the same, although most will contain some element of cloves, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg and turmeric and often dried rose petals. Ras El Hanout is to Morocco what Five Spice is to China and Garam Masala is to India.
My lunch mate had chosen Kofta Brochettes at £9.95, served with chips or saffron rice or both and salad. These minced lamb patties are marinated in authentic Moroccan spices and cooked on the charcoal grill. They were absolutely wonderful and a very generous serving.
I don’t think it will come as a surprise to say we couldn’t finish everything. Moroccans love nothing more than to send their guests on their way with full tummies. However, we do like a sweet treat after a meal and so shared a plate of our favourite, Baklawa at £3.95. This rich, sweet pastry is made of layers of filo pastry and filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with honey. Absolute bliss.
It is also worth mentioning that Kasbah opens at 10am to serve traditional Moroccan breakfast dishes, which definitely look worth trying and would make a nice change from a full English.
In summary, we loved Kasbah and will definitely make the trip over to Liverpool to eat there again but more than anything we can’t wait for Manchester to get it’s own branch. What with Kasbah and Bakchich I may never cook again.