Returning to Hostellerie des Frères Rue (situated behind Family Food Centre) with the latest gastronomic assignment in hand, the recipient Brother Rue had slipped into ruminative mode. This is not, dear reader, an inappropriate adjective for a restaurant reviewer, deriving as it does from the verb ruminate – “to chew the cud” with its root in the Latin for “gullet”.
Concealing the mission from the enquiring reclining Rue in the hope of arousing bafflement and bewilderment, a riddle had to be unravelled by way of a list of these ruminations: duck a l’orange, cranberry with turkey, Devils on Horseback and quail stuffed with fresh figs. “Food for thought?” he enquired.
However, far from dumbfounded and almost without hesitation, the laid-back brother (who shall also remain nameless) affected a “Holmes-like” air and declared that, because every dish listed represented a union between the tart and the sweet, between salt and sugar, between meat and fruit and as the single, national cuisine where such culinary marriages were the rule . . . (the by now formerly reposed Rue had paused again, entirely for dramatic effect)… the assignment would be to review the cuisine of (another pause) a Moroccan restaurant!
So, as that was indeed the case easily solved, the next evening we made our way to the Al Jasra, one of the gems in the collection of captivating Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels. All unique; all splendidly elegant. Al Jasra graces a peaceful pedestrian thoroughfare situated toward the Diwan Amiri-end of the famed Souq Waqif development and hosts ARGAN, Doha’s reputed Moroccan restaurant and the subject of our latest culinary sleuthing.
Now, the Brothers Rue unfailingly enjoy meeting those whose pleasure in what they do for a living matches their own. At ARGAN, following a warm welcome from assistant marketing manager Anna Lee Vergara, it was evident throughout that gracious geniality encompassed the entire restaurant team, especially the smiling, knowledgeable Tunisian manager Mehdi Labidi who, having acquired a taste for the less spicy cuisine of his nation’s neighbour, proudly acted as culinary guide for the evening’s encounter.
With tables placed around the central majlis area, where light snacks are served and diners move to enjoy comfortable armchairs and sofas for coffee and dessert, the Brothers both acknowledged the amiable ambiance and were even more pleased when Mehdi introduced traditional Moroccan mezzeh dishes to start.
Zaalouk salad, a softly aromatic silky aubergine and tomato dish; Briouat “samosas”, triangular shaped filo pastry filled either with cheese or with lamb or chicken mixed with cheese, lemon, pepper and dusted with herbs and spices; cooked Tatouka salad, green bell peppers and tomato, garlic and herbs served as a dip and deliciously zesty with homemade Moroccan bread; succulent beef liver (“Kabda”) prepared with spices and onions, parsley and cilantro; Canneloni eggplant with the juice of oranges, goats cheese, roasted red peppers and shallots; the obligatory ‘harissa’ with a chilli pepper paste
hot enough to remind Mehdi of his spicy homeland cuisine; a ramequin filled with zesty preserved lemon pickle and one with the unique oil from the kernel of the Argan tree endemic to Morocco (after which tree the restaurant derives its name) and used, like olive oil, for bread dunking (as well as drizzling over pasta and couscous). One Brother Rue recalled that Argan oil was also known as “liquid gold” for its cosmetic benefits to skin, hair and nails, although he, of course, had no need of it himself.
The trouble with such delicious mezzeh dishes with warm Moroccan bread and, of course, our natural aversion to letting good food go to waste, is that appetite for the main courses can become dangerously close to being sated. However, with the aroma, colour and elegance of the main dishes set before them the old “resolve des Rues” asserted itself yet again and, entirely revived, we readied and steadied for (much) more.
Although fully occupied in her kitchen, chef de cuisine Zahira Bouazi had been prevailed upon by Mehdi to introduce the recommended main dishes, which Mme Zahira did with good grace, evident enthusiasm and obvious pride.
Her Lamb Tajine with Prunes served to one Brother consisted of slow, shallow-cooked and wonderfully tender lamb shank and vegetables with seven spices, topped with prunes and almonds, sesame seeds and apricots. It was an intriguingly delicious harmony of the sweet and the savoury flavours, came the contented observation.
The dish for sibling Rue, who ventured it was perhaps chosen for him due to his more dignified bearing, was Royal Couscous: semolina (four times boiled and rinsed by chef Zahira to achieve the lightness she requires) with braised chicken and seven spices; grilled lamb chop; vegetables topped with caramelised onion, raisins and almonds. Regal Rue, too, professed himself to be royally impressed with the fusion of the sweet and the salt.
Afterwards, led by their ever-attentive attendant ‘Julie’ (her real Kyrgystani name defeated both Brothers in both pronunciation and spelling) to the luxurious comfort of a majlis sofa to sample inviting Moroccan desserts, we reflected on a most enjoyably fruitful evening, with gastronomic horizons broadened and new friends made.
All in all, Argan represents a memorable, reasonably priced statement of Moroccan culinary arts, was the verdict. Super-human powers of deduction are unnecessary to arrive at such a conclusion, commented one Brother Rue. The other was left to ruminate.
Al Jasra Boutique Hotel is an all-suite, elegant hotel offering breakfast (QR55) from 7 am, lunch from noon to 4 pm, and a la carte dinner from 7 pm. The SWBH group has its own 5-star dhow for which bookings may be taken by telephone 4433 6666.