Moor Please

The Irish Times Magazine - Chris Heaney

"a full-blown Moroccan dining experience..."

We visited El Bahia on a balmy summer's night and as we ascended the stairs the first thing that struck us was the sound of Moroccan music from above. The restaurant is decorated with Moroccan mirrors, metalwork, wall hangings and cushions. The rooms are lit by ornate lamps, the windows are all curtained - which further enhances the intimate atmosphere - and the overall effect, particularly when the smell of mint wafts out from the kitchen, is of transporting you to a different place - if not quite Marrakesh, at least somewhere other than central Dublin. In marketing-speak terms, a meal here is a complete package.

All of the decorated tableware, and even some of the utensils, are of a traditional design, again adding to the dining experience. To start I opted for harira, the traditional tomato and chickpea soup, which arrived with a pipe-like wooden spoon. It was pleasant but, surprisingly, a little bland and the billed coriander was nowhere to be tasted. Andy's starter of falfla was a plate of roasted peppers with garlic - a constant throughout the Mediterranean - and it was a simple success, with a deliciously subtle smokiness.

As a main course, I chose the Berber couscous, which arrived as a large serving of couscous topped with vegetables and slow cooked lamb, delicately flavoured with cinnamon and so tender that it offered little resistance to a fork. Of the vegetables, the aubergines and courgettes were particularly good and the delicious cooking juices of the lamb soaked into the ample portion of couscous. Andy's elham barcoq was a rich tagine of lamb and prunes with suitably hearty flavours, seasoned with ginger and cinnamon. It was satisfying but would have benefited from being served with some rice or couscous - although in the event I had plenty left over.

We both shunned espressos to sample Moroccan coffee, which was a good call, and we were served a sweet and highly aromatic brew flavoured with sugar, pepper, cinnamon and ginger. It was surprisingly light, fragrant and came served in individual, long-handled pots: a perfect end to a meal that had already proved itself to be an out-of-the-ordinary experience.