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Felicity Clarke discovers a little bit of Marrakesh in Hyde Park

Published on January 14th 2010.


Moorish's slightly dishevelled exterior doesn't really do much to draw you in. It's more the smell that intrigues. The aroma of incense and spices can be detected on the approach. On entering your senses are hit on all sides with a heavy Moroccan blow: an elaborate tiled floor, low traditional furniture draped in patterned throws, rugs piled high in the corner for no discernible reason, all set to a soundtrack of Arabic pop music. Having adjusted to our new location, seemingly in the heart of Marrakesh, a friend and I pulled up a cushion.

"When so many restaurants serve up 'authentic' cuisine yet deck out their joints with conference centre furniture and Monet prints, Moorish's thorough commitment to its name is to be celebrated."

The menu at Moorish is simple and as reassuringly North African as the decor. There's a selection of boureks (filled filo pastry parcels), Moroccan wraps and mezzes. To drink there's Arabic coffee, Moorish's own special blended teas or Moorish milkshakes and cocktails (non-alcoholic of course). We ordered a selection of dishes and ze mint tea for two (£3.50), a sweet, refreshing blend of rosewater, fresh mint, black tea and honey served in a traditional Moro pot.

In the interim between ordering and food arriving, the interior continued to beguile: paintings of Arabic symbols meaning 'the eye' and 'the desert' adorn the walls, the toilet is a beautiful, bright mosaic cave, an odd mural of an orange grove decorated with fake vines occupies one corner, and patterns clash everywhere. It's all a bit mad but charmingly surreal.

It took a while but the food did arrive. Moorish dips (£3.90) comprised houmous, harissa, olives, pickles and khobz bread. The houmous, in contrast to the clinical solid stuff you get from supermarkets, was textured and earthy with a zing of lemon and matched well with the viciously hot harissa chilli paste. I don't know why we went for the spicy fish bourek (£5.40). Hot tinned tuna, sardines and goats' cheese fried in filo pastry with a tomato-ey sauce tasted heavy, overly salty and just plain wrong.

Thank heavens then for the lamb mezze (£6.60). The mezzes are billed as 'everyone's favourite' and it's easy to see why. Tender chunks of lamb slow-roasted with rosemary and cinnamon sit next to generous piles of houmous, lemon and coriander cous cous, mechouia (roasted red pepper and tomato, garlic and paprika sauce), kechkauka (rich spicy aubergine and courgette stew) and well-dressed salad, accompanied by khobz bread. It was a tantalising mixture of flavours and spices that demanded we pick and dip until it was all gone.

How better to end a meal in a Moroccan café than with a shisha? They're on the menu so I got up to order but was informed that the smoking ban has put paid to this which is a shame. Instead we attempted the traditional baklawa dessert (£3), a trio of pastries filled with nuts and honey, but they're as heavy duty as they sound and we were quickly defeated. However, they are a good, sweet treat with the puff pastry giving way to varying nuttiness and textures; a pot of Moorish's own blend tea and baklawa would make an exciting North African alternative to your afternoon Yorkshire brew and custard cream.

That's the thing with Moorish – it offers a proper Moroccan alternative to your average coffee shop and a defiantly genuine experience. When so many restaurants serve up 'authentic' cuisine yet deck out their joints with conference centre furniture and Monet prints, Moorish's thorough commitment to its name is to be celebrated.

However it is by no means faultless. The service is slow and inconsistent; we got up to order everything at the counter. A slightly later table had their orders taken. You have to be prepared to wait and they could attempt to emulate near equatorial temperatures by shutting the wide open doors. But if you can overlook the flaws, then what you get is a unique, good value dining experience. Go for the mezzes, they're deliciously moreish (sorry, but you knew it had to happen).

Rating: 15/20
Breakdown: 7/10 Food
2/5 Service
5/5 Ambience
Address: Moorish
225 Hyde Park Road
Hyde Park
0113 275 3244

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