1a Short Gardens
Much like the entrance to the fabled riads throughout Morocco, the threshold of Souk is an inauspicious one off a quiet road in Seven Dials. From the street, a few low tables and lamps are visible but no activity of any kind, and certainly no indication of the fun to be had beyond the flickering flames. Follow the curving tunnel entrance around however and, as with the riad, you find yourself drawn to and soon enveloped by the sounds, and sweet smells of North Africa.
The interior decorators have really gone to town on the place, with lighting and furnishings all maintaining the illusion that you’re in the heart of the Maghreb, rather than 30 feet away from London’s theatre land. The restaurant sports an endless number of walls too, which lend themselves well to the many secluded booths that extend the exotic and labyrinthine feel of the place.
It’s into one of these booths that we are shown by a suitably bejeweled waitress, who recommends we start the evening off with cocktails. Pretty indulgent for a Wednesday night, but what the hell, when in Rabat. A mojito slides my way and a rather delicious rum-based concoction going by the name of Sahara slides in the way of the date, and as we mull over the menu I begin to think that perhaps this is how all Wednesday nights should begin.
The mixed starters that accompany the drinks are something of a mixed bag. The humous is nothing special and the falafel far too dry but any disappointment is short-lived with the arrival of a first rate tabbouleh and stuffed vine leaves (an item I pounce on whenever I spy it on the menu). Both are absolutely excellent.
The main course, which follows pretty soon after the last stuffed vine takes its leave, makes quite a splash. The date’s tagine turns up in a resplendent pot, piping hot and cooked to melt-on-your-tongue tenderness, all excellent stuff especially when lamb is the star player. The real delight of the main course however, is the pastilla of chicken. Pastilla is a filo pastry dish layered with shredded meat, spices, dried fruit, egg, nuts and more spices, which provides a mash-up of flavours. This is a real delight. Topped with raw fruit, each mouthful is like a three course meal and though deceptively filling the super-sweet mint tea that rounds off the evening acts as the perfect digestive.
A meal for two with cocktails, water and tip comes to around £60.
Souk Medina: 1a Shorts Gardens, Seven Dials, London, WC2H 9AT.
Reviewer: Giles Wright