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A taste of Moroccan magic

TAGINES Restaurant is as quaint as the cuisine served there is different and as curious as the location where it resides.

This is a house of Moroccan cuisine and the fascinating flavours are like no other form of food I have tasted.

A tagine is a Moroccan cooking and serving vessel, a ceramic bowl with a hollow witch’s hat like conical lid that is something of a chimney with an opening at the peak.

Considering the unusual look and use of the appliance the little restaurant is well named.

If you are into food adventures, this experience is a worthy culinary challenge.

A flavour trail of nuts, pickled lemons, saffron, chickpeas, black pepper, chilli, ginger, coriander, minty yoghurt and honey.

Couscous is the staple throughout accompanying many of the dishes.

One great challenge with this sweet and sour cuisine is to find a wine that complements and I feel the best way to go would be to choose the big guns of flavour.

Perhaps, a Brown Brothers gewurztraminer, or one of the Margaret River sauvignon blanc/ semillon blends – or even an Amberley chenin blanc. The mystical flavour combinations are not what I would enjoy red wine with.

An essential in the Moroccan cuisine are the pickled or preserved lemons the proprietors bring over from Melbourne. Many main dishes include the citrus influence.

Chicken tagine ($17) is one of the appreciated Moroccan dishes and this piquant speciality demonstrates the tagine cuisine where long, slow cooking is essential.

At this restaurant the chicken is served with olives in a tagine plate of scented sauce spiced with ginger, coriander, cinnamon, pepper and orange-blossom water.

Even at its peak of spiciness the cuisine isn’t chilli hot, as you would find in an Indian vindaloo, rather the piquancy seems to have a peppery base with some chilli.

Another interesting dish is lamb tagine ($17). This is as important to Moroccans as the lamb roast and vegetables are to we Australians.

The lamb came in a thick lemony sauce with a flavour depth of many dimensions. This boneless lamb is served with peas and olives and although it is difficult to identify the multiple spices, ginger and garlic certainly shone through.

In North Africa the chefs are called Tabakhat and their recipes are rarely written, instead passed on verbally thus keeping the culinary arts somewhat mystical.

Dips are a large part of Moroccan dining and the most prolific appears to be the North African paste cum sauce known as harissa.

Based on chilli, this condiment seems to be served with most meals, be they simple or magnificent. With the chilli are coriander, mint, garlic, caraway and salt. Side orders at Tagines of harissa are $2.50.

Other traditional dips are offered. An Algerian eggplant jam and a bessara dip of bean puree flavoured with cumin and garlic are served with a salsa and toasted Turkish bread ($11.50).

I began my Moroccan adventure with oja merguez, a specially made spicy sausage starter combined with eggs and potatoes and served with delicious mint yoghurt and toasted Turkish bread ($8.50)

Then the call of the tagine came and for my principal dish I chose the mussel and fish tagine ($18.50). I’m not a fan of New Zealand’s green-lipped mussels but these cooked in the spiced broth of the tagine changed my view.

Again the lemon came through with a zesty pepperiness from the aromatic broth laced with saffron really suited the seafood components. I had my flavours supercharged by the chefs who simply added some harissa.

Again, the flavours are as mystifying as the streets and markets of Casablanca and Marrakech and the unidentifiable scents and aromas came to the fore and made for a stand-out meal because of the cuisine’s fascinating difference.

Morroco’s cuisine has evolved through history, from the Moors, the Arabs and the Berbers.

It is akin to Algeria and Tunisia and the trio of countries form the North Western African region known as Maghreb.

With the menu at Tagines comes a very informative glossary of dishes and ingredients and it makes for a wonderful guide when choosing a dish.

But the girls serving and cooking are wonderfully helpful and happy to part with their knowledge.

They confess they fell in love with the cuisine in France and have never set foot in Morocco.

Another nice touch is the coded dishes that indicate if the food is suitable for vegans, ovo lacto vegetarians and gluten intolerance people.

Tagines is in down town Kensington, South Perth; stones throw from my house.

It’s a small place that seats just under 20 in the restaurant proper with hardly enough room in the phone-box sized kitchen to swing a tagline.

However, another 20 patrons can dine al fresco in a clear-blinded section on George Street.

I think this is one of our more interesting BYOs and the corkage is $2 a bottle.

I’m thankful this very different gastronomic challenge is available and I’m certain I will return.

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