It’s ironic really. The restaurants that don’t serve alcohol are invariably the ones in which you end up getting absolutely obliterated. This was certainly true of my trip to the Moroccan restaurant Tagine in Balham, but FEAR NOT, we didn’t get down to the serious drinking (oh hi, Oddbins) until after we’d devoured most of the food, so I can attest with unclouded judgement that it’s worth a visit.
But forget about the food for a second. The moment you walk into Tagine alone is worth braving the arse end of the Northern line for. There’s a big wooden door, a swish of red velvet curtain and suddenly you’re in a Moroccan bazaar, strung up with more chandeliers than the John Lewis lighting department and bedecked with Berber cushions. Intricately carved wooden chairs snuggle up around mosaic tabletops in brilliant patterns. The plates are almost too pretty to eat off, and the salt and pepper sit in little shaker-cosies.
Lauren and I arrived for an early dinner so we nabbed the cushioned corner seats with a view of the open kitchen. There were so many starters I wanted to try, but we settled on sharing the vegetarian meze (£13) as it seemed to cover many tasty bases.
My favourite thing about Morrocans is their profound belief in the seductive power of a good dip. Alongside a wicker basket of warm pittas were five such dips; my favourite of which was the Zaalouk, a compote of aubergines cooked with a fresh tomato sauce, garlic, coriander and olive oil. Think baba ganoush on ‘roids.
As well as the Zaalouk, we dipped and scooped our way through Mechouia, slow cooked grilled pepper cooked into tomato sauce; Slata Barda, sliced beetroot with honey and cinnamon; carrot salad with garlic and coriander; and, obviously, hummus.
If you’re a lamb fan, the main menu will read like erotica: tagines and grills and mechoui as far as the eye can see. Lauren originally considered the Zizou Grill (lamb and chicken skewers served with saffa couscous – £15.00) but was swayed by the waitress to try the Tagine Basla (£15.00), slow-cooked lamb shank smothered in crispy fried onion and potato.
Lauren described it as delicious but very rich, and that it would have easily served two alongside a couscous or salad, which for two meat-eaters sounds bloody lovely. Unfortunately for her…
I knew the veggie Moroccan menu would be more limited, but it still took me bloody ages to decide what to have. I had initially decided to feast upon the vegetable tagine until the waitress advised I try the Batenjan Bil Jibneh (£12.00). The truly enormous baked aubergine was stuffed with deliciously seasoned roasted peppers, and topped with a goats cheese tiara (!) a thing of beauty. Seriously, this thing was bigger than my head; I’ve never seen anything like it. The richness of the sauce was cut by the tanginess of the goat’s cheese, and the aubergine itself was baked to perfection. The flesh felt like silk, and the skin – which when I’m cooking at home I usually leave because I just can’t cook it properly – was lovely and tender.
Throughout the starter and mains, Lauren and I had been sucking down on a Mint Sahara, fresh mint drink shaken with lemon juice and gomme, topped with soda, and a Berber Cooler – fresh raspberry puree shaken with apple and fresh orange juice (both £4.50). Even if, like us, you bring your own petrol wine, I’d recommend trying the restaurant’s drinks because they really do offset the food well with their freshness and zing. (Orrrrr you could try adding a bit of fizz to them? Might not be the worst idea in the world? Hmm? Hmm?)
The food at Tagine does err on the expensive side, but they really are not mucking about when it comes to flavour, or portion size. I agree with Lauren, that one of these mains would comfortably serve two people, so next time I go I will probably do that and then gorge myself upon some of their sides, many of which gave me serious table envy as we watched them go by. I may also stand a chance of having space for dessert, which I absolutely didn’t on this occasion, which was a shame as the Selection of Moroccan Sweets’ sounds mysterious and inviting. Next time, Moroccan sweets, next time.
And, of course, if you’re a drinker you’ll save a mint by bringing along a £7 bottle of plonk or two. Lauren and I had a whale of a time drinking a couple of bottles of bubbles, which goes some way to explaining why my long-suffering boyfriend had to drive out to Balham and pick me up after I’d stranded myself there, a bit chilly (damn you, British summertime) but stuffed to the gills and happy as Larry, belting out Lionel Richie’s My Tender Heart…don’t ask. But do get yourself to Tagine, stat. (Via Oddbins, obv.)
Tagine, 3 Fernlea Rd, London, SW12 9RT
Author: Carla Juniper
Carla is a proud Putney-dweller and newly-minted vegetarian. She loves pickled beetroot and experimenting in the kitchen, especially when accompanied by a very large glass of wine, which is known to aid creativity and culinary prowess. In her spare time she uses her degree in Illustration to create bespoke digital portraits (you can check our her work here).
She also sucks at the flying trapeze.