With our bottle of Rioja comes a basket of crusty bread with homemade garlic butter and green and black olives. We order a vegetarian mezze starter without knowing what to expect and are hugely impressed with the platter of seven surprising and tasty salads. We rank them in order by our favourites, starting with a cinnamony cole slaw with apples and raisins, followed by a creamy sour potato salad, red beets and fresh coriander, cucumbers in yoghurt and toasted sesame seeds, grated carrots in orange juice and two types of tomato salsas, one spicy. Then there are four brik, or fried phyllo dough triangles stuffed with sheep’s cheese. These are best of all – crisply fried, oily and aromatic.
Such an appetiser sets the bar high for what’s to come, and the mains don’t quite meet our expectations. Our server lifts off the tops of the tajines, revealing two different meat dishes in sauce so hot it is still boiling. My friend’s lamb with prunes and roasted almonds initially has great flavour thanks to a lovely mixture of spices and sticky prunes. But after a few bites, he’s had it; the sauce is overwhelmingly sweet.
My chicken tajine has the opposite problem; it’s on the bland side. Although the meat is tender and tasty, I have to add quite a bit of salt and pepper to make up for its overall lack of flavour. The sauce is also too abundant: It hides the tender vegetables underneath, such as carrots, peas and green beans.
I would not hesitate to go back, however, for the vegetarian mezze alone or to try one of their couscous dishes or salads, which include brik filled with any number of things from goat cheese to tuna to chicken and almonds. I might even be tempted to try another tajine, but then the kefta, based on meatballs and eggs.
The evening comes to a close around midnight, after paying the €65 bill and engaging in a quick, friendly chat with the owners. They tell us how the place fills up quickly in the winter, when a reservation is most necessary.
Verschansingstraat 28, Antwerp; 03.238.88.30
Royal portions of Moroccan couscous, tajines and salads in a warm atmosphere