THE fact that we are all not still dining on raw beets and turnips has everything to do with mass immigration to these shores and little to do with our own innovations as a culinary island.
Indian and Chinese food provided the spice - the bit of strange - for generations past. Now, increasing numbers of Muslim and eastern European populations mean things are getting far more interesting than your taxi rank kebab shop (if not ever more predictable on the covers of the Daily Mail).
Now, as the sweet smoke clears from Liverpool's ever increasing number of Turkish barbecue pits, from the excellent Lebanese Saharaa and Egyptian Kimos, comes not one, but two Moroccan restaurants: one is to open on Lark Lane in the near future, but first we have the Kasbah Cafe and Bazaar on Bold Street.
The Kasbah set out its stall only a couple of weeks ago on the site of Chris (Savina) Hamblin's “Mexi-go”. Evidently not enough people did, which is a shame as the food was big, good and cheap. Now Mexi-go has gone.
No such problems for the Kasbah which has been packing them in since Day One. It is the concept of Amine El Gueddar and Othmane Mellouki. Both have long backgrounds in the hospitality industry – Amine handled the opening year of operations at the Novotel in Paradise Street.
Quite simply there is nothing like it in Liverpool right now. For a start, everything you see is for sale: the lanterns, the mirrors, the throws, the art.
“Everything” excludes waitress Nadia, but even she is suitably Moroccan – by way of Derry. She is one of thousands of students and professionals in the city with North African/eastern Mediterranean roots.
Seeing their rich and colourful marketplace - Amine and Othmane took what many restaurateurs (Muslim or otherwise) would still see as a brave decision in the UK's alcohol-loving capital: no booze. And don't ask if you can you take your own either.
The mood in the Kasbah is lush and seductive enough without it, the ebb of mint tea as sweet and mild as
the waters of a lagoon.
People of all ethnicities chatter quietly. In the enticing window area, two women and their babies relax on informal cushions. Customers may also smoke “the world's first electronic sheesha” (£15.95 for half an hour).
What of the food? As authentic as it can get, they claim, which means unless you've knocked about a bit, it's going to be new.
Moroccan cuisine is extremely diverse, thanks to the marching in of other cultures and nations over the centuries. Think Berber, Moorish, Mediterranean, and Arab influences.
Heavily spiced, it relies on Mediterranean fruits and vegetables and even some tropical ones, dried and otherwise. A typical meal begins with a series of hot and cold salads, followed by a tagine. So we did that one, with superb olives to start.
Makdous (£3.95) is a dish best served cold: tangy aubergine stuffed with walnuts, garlic and olive oil, mopped up with good, bouncy, unleavened Moroccan bread. Briouats Mama (£3.95), minced lamb in a filo pastry came with a bitingly fresh tomato and chilli chutney.
We skipped the offer of a pastilla (Moroccan pie) and instead waded into a rich lamb tagine (£8.95) the most popular dish in the place, apparently, with more of that bread.
Then came Couscous Royale (£11.95), a soft, flaking Himalaya adorned with vegetable slices, chicken and lamb; at the summit, tfaya (caramelised onions and sweet sultanas). Harrisa and homemade sauce were offered to trickle over it.
Although filled with allure, the vast undertaking of the dish defeated me at a fairly low base camp. I gave it to my friend who took it home, planning another assault the next day.
"No, it's ok," I told him. "Feed your fez."
The menu options are plenty. You can do a tapas thing, have afternoon tea, take a westernised lunch, try Moroccan pancakes or mediterranean salads.
A plate of rich and sweet pastries (£3.50) and more mint tea should have sent us on our way, but we didn't want to go back out, gently or otherwise, into the good night. The ambience and other-worldliness is completey charming.
Amine says: “We want people to experience a truly genuine piece of Morocco when they
walk through the door.”
Souk it and see.
For your information...
...this was a hosted visit, so we haven't scored any of the elements. Yet.
All opinions expressed, however, remain heartfelt.
Kasbah Cafe Bazaar
Tel: 0151 707 7744