Moroccan Nights In Islington
- Michael Hepworth gets the sand
between his toes
The number of restaurants,
bistros and bars on Upper Street
is staggering - particularly if you
are visiting for the first time or
even after a few years absence. Marsdens sounds
quintessentially English, and it
has had several formats over the
years but the current chef-patron Mohammed
Faraji is pushing his Moroccan
food to the locals and doing a pretty
good job of it by all accounts.
I visited the restaurant on a Tuesday night and it was about half full and
Mohammed was doubling as chef and waiter host and continually visited every
table. This did cause some lengthy delays between courses, unfortunately. His
enthusiasm however has obviously rubbed off in his cooking so that in spite
of their being fewer Moroccan dishes on the menu they are the more popular
items. He sells about two thirds Moroccan food - the other dishes are an assortment
of what can be loosely termed European.
Momo, Moro, Tajine and some of the other trendy North African style eateries
in London have made quite an impact on the London dining scene with somewhat
reviews about their authenticity, but Marsdens seemed pretty genuine and probably
offers rather better value. The atmosphere is relaxed enough in a long room
with dark blue carpets with bright yellow-mustard walls and silk lanterns.
There are four starters plus a special on both menus and my two companions
and I decided to go for the Moroccan dishes. One friend was trying North African
food for the first time. His great passion is authentic Moslem style Indian
food that can be found on the streets of Southall and Ilford, so his opinion
was interesting if not precisely informed.
I began with the baked Fresh sardines marinated in chermoula and stuffed with
roasted pine nuts. They were two of the biggest sardines I have ever had (with
very few bones), in a very oily coriander and cumin based sauce and priced
at £4.95. My rookie companion selected the Fish Pastilla, a spicy fish pie
wrapped in a crunchy filo shell (£5.75). He seemed very satisfied as did my
other friend who went for the special of Crab Rosti and salad also at £4.95.
We also tried a starter from the European menu of Goats' brie cheese coated
with a mixture of herbs, garlic, sesame seeds and breadcrumbs with a delicious
chutney of pears, onions & port (£4.95). The very pronounced taste of cheese
was well complemented by the chutney, but not a good choice if you only like
cheese on a limited basis. The poached egg on brioche toast with smoked salmon
and topped with hollandaise sauce at £5.50 was far more interesting. This local
favourite is the chef's variant on the more traditional style of eggs Benedict.
The choice of main courses was limited with only five items, but the Lamb
and Vegetable Couscous (£12.50) had good pieces of tender young lamb in just
enough juice. My friend's Lamb Tagine with apricot, prunes and roasted sesame
seed (£12.50) also came with couscous. He thought the flavours were a little
overpowering, but seemed to be able to plough through it all the same. There
were no complaints about the Baby Chicken stuffed with rice and nuts (£10.95),
served with aromatic vegetables and garnished with preserved lemon and green
olives. There is more of a choice on the European menu with duck, beef, salmon,
risotto, prawns and sea bass.
A word at this stage about the Moroccan wine Amazir AOG Beni M'Tir 1996 priced
at £11.95 a bottle. It's quite ripe with a flavour of Autumn bonfires, very
complex and surprisingly good. The dessert of the day at £4.50 was a French
Hazelnut cream pie, very rubbery and similar to Kulfi. Plenty of ice-cream
and Moroccan puddings are available however, along with cheeses, liqueurs and
coffee selections to round out an interesting eating experience.
Michael Hepworth May 1999
Marsden's - 189 Upper Street, Islington, London N1 1RQ
Tel-020 7226-2305 Fax-020 7226-2155
Nearest tube - Highbury
Lunch: 12noon - 3pm (closed Saturday) - £9.95 set menu
Dinner: 6pm - 11.30pm (closed Monday)
Price: Average £25.00 per person including house wine.
Michael Hepworth April 1999