|The Sheltering Sky|
|A Marrakech market|
|A selection of El Cantara's dishes|
Entering from Soho's bustling and icy Frith Street, El Cantara welcomes guests by enveloping them within its warm red and orange walls and soft furnishings. Photographs, artefacts and lanterns adorn the opulent space, all of which were sourced in the markets of southern Spain and North Africa by co-owners Hamza Harrak and Sam Mallach, and Moroccan interior designer Nadine Rovass. Sit on the ground floor and transport yourself to a Spanish taverna, with terracotta and walnut floors. Sip a glass of sangria and share tapas, before a flavoursome 'Paella Valenciana'. Or, head to the first floor dining room, based on a Bedouin retreat with ruby-red textiles and hand-engraved brass tables. Outside, there is a private terrace, for smoking shisha or relaxing with a cocktail. Luckily, outdoor heaters make this is viable option for winter, open until 1am on weekends (when you can also enjoy belly dancers).
As for my evening at El Cantara, we began tapas-style, with a selection of Moroccan and Spanish favourites. Complementing each other well, dishes were fresh, tasty and moreish. A unanimous favourite was the 'Pastila of chicken' (pastry was thin and crispy on the top and perfectly softened under the succulent meat filling). Not to forget the super-soft olive bread ('Pan de Alceltuna'), which was delightful on its' own and spectacular with homemade houmous. Also surprisingly anything-but-simple in taste were the warming spinach and feta pastries.
|Pastila of chicken|
Perfect for friends who are happy to share, every diner receives a tapas-sized place for each course. So, we continued in this spirit and chose several main dishes from either country to sample. Alongside the generous seafood paella, we devoured a tender, suitably seasoned and honeyed lamb tagine. Pleased to find fluffy couscous and a tasty mixed grill nearby, I easily imagined that I could walk out onto the streets of Morocco. Or Spain. I wasn't sure which, but after a tasty fusion of both cuisines, I didn't think it mattered.
To finish, we enjoyed 'Baklawa' which were soft, nutty and delectably sweet. 'Crema Catalana' (the Spanish Creme Brûlée) was one of the best I've ever tasted and pistachio ice cream proved the perfect palate cleanser. As ever, I thoroughly enjoyed the Moroccan fare and my determination to visit continues. The Spanish infusion was surprisingly welcome and ensured a unique menu.
City Girl (EC1) was a dinner guest of Jori White PR.