Today I was visiting “Moltaqa”, as one of the judges for the Vancouver Foodster sangria challenge. My role, to visit each of the six participating restaurants, to try their sangria creation; then judge it based on taste, originality and presentation. I won’t be revealing my thoughts on the drink here, as the competition is only starting, but be sure to return back to my blog for the results and to see how I voted after October 7th.
I have been to the cafe that this space once was, so appreciated the transformation it has undergone. It was all encompassing and transformative with the richness of colour and pattern. A black and white hexagon printed bar and matching column back splash, crushed velvet seats and upholstery in a raspberry with florals and geometrics. Satin gold and ruby pillows, and lanterns that seemed to drip from the ceiling where they hung. There was a smattering of decorative urns and pots, and embroiled straw hats and fez caps with tassels for photo ops. There was even a full standing hookah in the corner to appreciate, but not to use.
The decor helped to speak to the authenticity of Vancouver’s only full fledged Moroccan restaurant. And thus I could see why it was so popular today. It opened at 11:30am and we made sure to reserve a table right away. And luckily so, because soon after the restaurant quickly filled.
We were seated right up front with the view of the sidewalk before us, and us a living advert for how great the food to come was. However, my guest was a little squeamish when it came time to actually eat, she felt uncomfortable dining in excess, where just across the street and within our view were shanty homes and the stares of the hungry. But I digress… because our secluded booth, gave us the privacy we needed for intimate conversation and the ability to take all the great photographs below.
We were able to taste their menu extensively, starting with a traditional caffeinated beverage. I am not typically a fan of coffee, but how can you miss out on trying a cup of authentic Turkish coffee. So here I was enjoying how deep and aromatic this black pool was. It wasn’t bitter nor was it overwhelming, simply an enjoyable sip that warmed me to my core. I especially loved the presentation with copper kettle, silver tray, and knitted potholder.
Although, as good as it was, I still prefer tea, and their traditional cup of Moroccan tea should not be missed; although I wish they had the proper glassware to pour it in to. Mint and sugar steeping with gunpowder green tea. I would come back just for another cup.
“Zaalouk” is a traditional Moroccan dip made with roasted eggplant, tomato, and red pepper. It offered chunky bites that were hearty with the freshly baked rounds of bread, still steaming when you ripped into it. We would get plenty of their Moroccan flat bread with our other dishes to come. Good thing, as all the sauces were so good that you’d want to wipe the dish clean with the bread provided.
The “Lamb sausage merguez” offered more spice in its gravy and plenty of zest in the sausage itself. But had we known that the two local made, fresh served, halal lamb sausage would also make an appearance in the shakshouka (below), we would have went for the vegetarian shakshouka instead. Although I guess we should have read the title of the dish to figure it out. No regrets though, sharing everything two ways, meant that one sausages was not enough, this way we each had two!
“Lamb merguez shakshouka and eggs”. Here the egg sets it apart and made it reminiscent of a breakfast skillet. Similar in flavour and juices that they sat in (compared to the above), but different and thicker, thanks to the over easy yolks you stir in. I preferred this version better.
The dish that is not to be missed, and certainly the centre piece to any meal is one of their tagines. “Tagine” is a dish named after the earthenware pot in which it is cooked in. It is a round casserole dish covered with a cap that resembles a volcano, it includes a stout at the top that allows steam to escape. It is like pressure cooking and steaming in a very unique apparatus. It is served to you sealed shut, the lid is removed at your for table for its big reveal. Smoke climbs and dissipates, and what you get is a collection of succulent meat and tender vegetables.
We ordered the “Lamb shank tagine” wth apricots, ras el hanout, spices, and potatoes, carrots and squash. This was our favourite dish and the only one that we finished, completely. The meat fell of the bone, it was so flavourful. The squash, carrot, and potatoes made great sides adding a different texture to the mix. And the apricots jelly took it to a whole different level for me. It was sweet and stood out, but not enough to distract, in fact I felt it helped to tie all the spices together.
We then ordered the “Cinnamon chicken pastilla”. I thought it would serve as dessert, especially when I saw it topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar, and finished off with a mint leaf. It tasted festive with the cinnamon and sugar, but with the texture of baklava, given the dryness of the chicken paired with a light and flaky pastry crust. When I made mention of the above and that this was my first experience trying Moroccan cuisine, our server said we had to come back to try their vegetable version. That this one would be a lot tastier, and that it was his favourite dish off the menu.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Overall a great meal. I tried so many new flavours and I enjoyed them all, as my first full experience with Moroccan seasoning. My guest already declared that she would come back with her family. During our meal she spoke to the authenticity of everything having traveled and and dined in Morocco herself. She was a great resource when writing this post, as she describe what she had there compared to what she enjoyed here. I too would like to come back, especially on one of the nights where they have belly dancers preforming. What great fun that would be. Don’t deny your cravings.
51 West Hastings Street, Vancouver BC, V6B 1G4