Friday, 5 November 2010

Madrid Restaurant: Al Mounia

One of the most disappointing things about Andulucian food is that after 700 years of Moorish occupation there is not so much as a single cumin seed or cinammon stick to be seen.  That's not to say its bad - great hams, olive oils and a general abundance of top produce create a good rustic cuisine, its just that if they'd kept some of the North African influence it could be so much more exciting.  Look at their buildings, brilliant.  Oh well.  If you do want North African food these days by far the best option is to travel North to Madrid and go to the excellent Al Mounia, a fantastic Moroccan restaurant in the Barrio Salamanca.

You could easily miss this place from the outside, its got a big heavy wooden door, which looks forbiddingly closed and has only a small sign on the wall indicating its presence.  Inside that all changes. Low round, copper coloured tables and heavy drapes coupled with waiters in dinner jackets and bow ties makes this place feel a bit like a set from Casablanca but in a good rather than the naff way it could easily have gone.

Before I start talking about the food I'll save the lazy some time and say that I have nothing bad at all to say about it.  It was all fantastic, bursting with flavour.  First we shared a pastilla, a sweetened filo and almond pastry stuffed with minced chicken - though pigeon is more traditional.  Every layer of the pastry was perfectly crisped and this left the dish very light, when it can so easily feel a bit claggy if the pastry layers start to stick together.  The balance between sweet and well seasoned meat inside was just right.  We followed this with a vegetable cous cous.  The vegetables though probably having next to no vitamin content left after the long cooking they had gone through were sweet and delicious, having also created a fantastic broth to pour over the grain itself.  Very good.  However, the very best thing was the lamb and onion tagine.  I'm not exagerating when I say that this is one of the very best stews I've ever had.  The meat was meltingly tender, helped by the Spanish taste for much younger lamb than we eat here in the UK.  The broth was intensely flavoured and thick.  The texture from tender meat to thick sauce is perfect comfort food.  I can't reccomend it enough.  We finished with good sweet Moroccan tea and tasty sweet pastries, though I would skip these and have another starter if I went again, though I'm not the best judge because I really don't have much of a sweet tooth.

This is cooking of the highest calibre, well judged balanced cooking.  Big simple dishes done to absolute perfection.  The place is busy but doesn't feel frantic.  This is the kind of place you'll leave with a big smile on your face.

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