North Africa, crammed into an 18-seat kitchen

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North Africa, crammed into an 18-seat kitchen

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Here’s a funny thing: You don’t visit a halal restaurant in a year ― then you bump into two in a fortnight.
So there was I, leaving “Petra” (the very good Itaewon restaurant, not the very old Jordanian city) two weeks back, heading westward down the hill towards the entrance to the ’Won, when what should I bump into? Yet another Islamic restaurant named after yet another Muslim city. Remembering the surprisingly good dining experience I had just enjoyed in Petra, I decided: “Right! You’re next!” and put it on the list. So here we are in “Marakech Night.”
On entering, don’t anticipate the sweeping expanses of the Sahara; expect instead the closed confines of the souk. ?Even by hole-in-the-wall standards, this is a wee place: There is elbow-to-elbow seating for 18 (slender) diners, so despite the romantic allure of the name, this is perhaps not the ideal place for an intimate dinner for two.
But it’s cozy enough: The walls are painted adobe orange, and decor takes the form of carpets, and lamps, of both the brass ’n’ glass varieties. ?And yes, there is a shelf of hookahs in the corner, too.
I should point out, though, that it isn’t just Marakech night. With lunch on the menu, it’s also Marakech noons, but the variety of food is far greater in the evening. From the appropriately leather-bound menu, we chose the following:
Inescapable around the Southern and Eastern Med is hummus (5,000 won, around $5), the mulch of ground chickpeas and olive oil. Here, it is a nicely grainy, textured and nutty version ― yes, the perfect dip for the fresh-from-the-oven pita bread.
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Tabuly (5,000 won) is a Lebanese specialty popular across the Middle East: A fragrant dish of tomatoes, parsley, onions, mint and couscous, moistened with olive oil and lemon. Needless to say, this is cool, light and fresh, but unlike most salads, has an excellent texture from the couscous and some really zesty flavor from the mint and the lemon. Recommended (especially now that the weather is getting warmer).
Now, to the mains. The lemon chicken (12,000 won) is a pot of chicken in a very, very tasty stew indeed. In fact, this may well be the most citrus-y dish I have consumed, since, I don’t know, the last time I ate a raw lemon.
Chicke tazine (12,000 won), a meat, vegetable and dried fruit stew, was another good pot, though not as strongly spiced as many I have tasted.
You can’t eat North African without eating couscous, so lamb couscous (12,000 won) it is. It came out a reasonably sized chunk of lamb, plus a heap of cabbage, spuds, parsley and raisins, served on a bed of couscous. This, by the way, is by far the best value choice: Only the most gluttonous trencherman will need more grub after this hearty platter.
Inevitably, kebabs and falafel are also served, though we did not sample them this visit, and crepes are offered for dessert.
Oddly for a halal restaurant ― but thankfully for chaps like moi ― booze is available: House red or whites, plus beer. Soft drinks and teas are also offered.
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As far as table settings go, I have to confess that I am amazed at how closely Morroccan stew pots resemble Korean kimchi jiggae pots. I am equally stupefied by the fact that the cutlery here is kept in boxes on the table that could easily pass for the chopstick-and-spoon boxes common in your average Korean restaurant. Clearly, the Morroccan and Korean cultures have more in common than is usually realized? or did Chef get his tableware in a job lot from the local doen jang house??
The service was a bit overwhelmed when we were there, which is odd, considering the size of the establishment. And we had to ask our neighboring table ― who asked their neighboring table ― for a fork. All part of the fun? You decide.
The chef is a good egg. Mostafa Rhiti, the former head chef for the Morroccan embassy here, helps out the serving staff and will no doubt drop by your table for a chinwag.?
Verdict: Nothing wrong with the grub, but the service and settings still need a little more attention to detail. However, as Marakech Night has only been in business for three months, things, insh-allah, can only get better.


Marakech Night
English: English and French spoken.
Tel.: (Chef’s mobile) 010-5801-9444
Hours: 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Location: On the hill near the entrance to Itaewon across from the army base. Subway: Noksapyeong
Parking: None available, though there are spaces in nearby alleys.
Credit Card: Will be accepted starting next month.
Dress: Come as you are


by Andrew Salmon

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