Monday 22 June 2015

Le Tobsil, Marrakech, Morocco

After something of a hiatus (new job, sorry) I am back to pick up where I left off with Morocco.  I want to jump straight to our experiences of one of Marrakech’s finest dining destinations, Le Tobsil.
When you book Le Tobsil you are directed to a certain street and expected to find your guide.  He then does a rapid about turn and scurries off down the rabbit warren streets of the Medina, as the sun is sinking. 

Before long you’re completely disorientated, weaving this way and that…

…and then suddenly you find yourself outside this big, unmarked, heavy-looking, studded wooden door.

By now, your heart should be in your mouth.  Where am I?  Where am I going?  Is this… safe?!

But fear not.  Because the other side of that door is the fantastically apportioned riad that has been remodelled into a restaurant. 

You’re seated at your rose petal strewn table and brought an aperitif – local wines or beers for the most part (both much better than expected) and lulled into a state of relaxation by the Berber music playing in the courtyard. 

Then the meal starts.  It’s a five course, fixed price, no choice menu of classic Moroccan cuisine.  First up is the spectacular array of Moroccan salads that is a favourite starter in some parts.  I cannot remember, nor could I even list at the time, exactly what each dish was but here are some excerpts: aubergine salad (a lot like baba ganoush), sweet carrots and nuts, roasted peppers, broad and butter beans, cucumbers (a little like smashed cucumbers of Sichuan fame), potato and turnip salads, roasted baby courgettes sweet tomato salad (almost like a jam) covered in sesame seeds – the list goes on.

Also served up as a starter were little Moroccan pastries – stuffed with cheese, vegetables (not entirely dissimilar to a Chinese spring roll, actually) and chicken.  Very tasty. 

The next course was a funny one – whole chicken leg (thigh and drummer) cooked in an onion, spice and honey sauce.  Very sweet, but lovely – the chicken retained all of its moistness and the sauce went perfectly.  But there was absolutely nothing to go with it!  A very weird experience for the Western palate.

The next course was lamb and aubergine tagine, served with royal cous cous.  Nice, but unexciting if I’m honest.

By this stage we were treated to Berber dancing musicians – basically the ambience creators from the courtyard come to hawk for tips.  I find that sort of thing during a meal a little annoying, and frankly I’d rather do without.  Now, you could say that this is the only way for them to get paid – and I hear you on that point.  Except that I’d rather the restaurant charged me another couple of dirham and paid their performers better.

Pudding was poached pears, with an orange masala sauce.  Not something I’d usually go for, but this was brilliant – and worked so well after the meal we had just experienced. 

Then, of course, there was mint tea – poured, as you can see, from the extraordinary heights that the pouring of mint tea seems to require.  I think it’s to allow it to cool a little before serving, but frankly it still seems bloody hot.  Still, I like it a lot and – as you’d expect, given its popularity, it works as a fantastic digestif. 

Then, of course, there was more.  A sort of milk / cream cake served with merengue.  Ridiculously sweet and too much after such a big meal. 

Now, reviews of Le Tobsil are mixed.  There are a lot of people on sites like TripAdvisor calling it the best thing ever.  And there are similarly a lot of people calling it utter rubbish, no more than tourist tat.  Which to believe?  Well, both in a sense.  The experience is amazing – definitely one to enjoy, and it certainly ticks all the tourist boxes of what one expects in the way of Arabian Nights type living.  The food is good – for the most part – and a lot better than we experienced in a lot of other, often more expensive, Marrakech restaurants.  Was it mind blowing?  No.  Was it worth it?  Definitely, yes.

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