58 Crawford Street
Occo has one particularly great thing going for it: variety. When you walk into this modern Moroccan restaurant in Marylebone, your eye falls on the main bar and dining area. Darkened wood and sleek design gives the first glimpse of Occo a polished London air, but walk a little further inside and you'll find a conservatory room for intimate dining and Occo's boudoir - a den of deep red, low-slung seating where you can opt for cocktails, Moroccan snacks and a smoke on a shisha if you feel like it.
We opted for the intimate allure of the conservatory. There are only around eight tables in this stylish corner of Occo, so be prepared to share some conversational overspill with your neighbours. The conservatory would also make a great location for a small group of your nearest and dearest, as would the boudoir, but any more than ten mates or relatives, and you'd need to push a few out into the main bar. They probably wouldn't complain as the cocktail list is fantastic, and long enough to keep them busy for an hour or two, but you never know how family will react at these gatherings, even if they are sipping on a spiced pear mojito.
We started our meal without starters, as we were peckish but not quite famished and when faced with two courses out of three, pudding usually wins over appetizers. So we missed the chance at kicking our meal off with chicken, prune and almond cigars and also perhaps a dish of sautéed paprika chicken liver. If you do arrive famished at Occo, by all means indulge in all three courses, unless of course you choose the grilled beef kefta and merguez sausage dish for your main course, in which case you may very well be unable to manage pudding to boot.
Our mains included the above kefta and sausage extravaganza, which was plentiful, savoury and left one half of the iLoveMyGrub team in need of a twenty-minute pit stop before pudding became even a remote reality. We also opted for the chicken dwida: chicken marinated in saffron, served with raisin vermicelli, figs, flaked almonds and a saffron, turmeric, and ginger tagine sauce. Just reading that made us salivate - saffron, almonds, raisins, ginger - okay you've got me. I'll have that please. How did it taste? Not too sure what the Arabic for "culinary kaleidoscope of intoxicating flavours" is, but it would be the first phrase I'd want to learn if I ever set foot in Morocco. Choose this dish - it will leave you with room for pudding as it's an acceptably average portion, but it will also leave you quite unable to look up from your plate, as the saffron soaked raisins lure you towards their plump little selves, your fork meanwhile tangled in the vermicelli as it trips up on a sliver of smokey almond and finds itself diving into the succulent chicken, heady with ginger and turmeric. Suffice to say; had there not been pudding on the menu, we might have had to order the dwida again - just to be certain that it was as fantastic as we had originally thought.
But onto pudding we went - having finally made room after the huge plate of kefta and sausages. We decided on the atlas honey pannacotta, served with cardamom roasted fig and plum compote, and the steamed orange pudding served with orange curd and cream. The pannacotta was good, but the steamed orange pudding won with its tart citrus tang making quite a statement on the tongue.
We finished off our meal with a cup each of mint tea, and adjourned to the boudoir where our waitress who had guided us knowledgeably through the entire dinner menu, proceeded to do the same with the tobacco on offer with the shishas. Within ten minutes, we were sipping our mint teas and smoking our mint and apple shisha, content not to move for a while from the comfort of Occo's most relaxing corner.
Around £60 for a meal for two, excluding drinks.
58 Crawford Street, London, W1
Reviewed by: Helenka Bednar