For our last few hours in Paris that weekend, we walked. We walked across the river, through the Jardin des Plantes, through to the Grande Mosquée de Paris, where we were to stop for a drink and a bite. For yes, the Grande Mosquée has a restaurant, a hammam and a salon de thé in its little garden and all of them appear to be very popular. The food served appears to be Tunisian/Moroccan and it all reminded us of our time in Marseille last year.

We found a table in the shade and from the roving waiter, we ordered two teas and from the counter within the building, I ordered two pastries. The teas were strong, hot and syrupy sweet.

Our Lunch/Tea in the Garden

Our savoury choice was a meat filled brik…

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…while our sweet choice (which may have pushed us over the edge in terms of sugar) was a syrup soaked almond cake. The pastries were extremely fresh, what with the high turnover.

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The garden is gorgeous and its trees provide not only shade for us tea drinkers but also a perch for some adorable sparrows.

Sparrows

Unfortunately, the sparrows do make a nuisance of themselves, jumping on tables and attempting to take pastries directly from plates or even hands!

In the Garden

Sparrows and all, I highly recommend it! The restaurant was also very popular and I’d love to stop there next time.

Grande Mosquée de Paris
2 bis Place du Puits de l’Ermite 
75005 Paris
France

I fell in love with Tunisian cuisine while we were in Marseille and we ate a lot of couscous there. I do believe couscous is the national dish of Tunisia but it’s also extremely popular in France – and for good reason, it’s quite affordable and very delicious. It was the first thing I wanted to recreate when I got home and a quick trip down Croydon’s Surrey Street Market gave me all the ingredients I required (you’ll see from the ingredient list below that all are easy to source).

Tunisian Lamb Couscous

I made the most basic of the couscous recipes – just with lamb (though I guess chicken or just vegetable are just as simple). And the recipe itself I cobbled together from a recipe in Saveur and another in a French cookbook – yeah, it’s been so absorbed in France that it features as a traditionally loved recipe in a very very French cookbook! Brilliant!

Tunisian Lamb Couscous

It turned out the recipe really was super easy and tasted just like the couscous we tried in Marseille. It’s very soothing (good for autumn or winter) – all that couscous soaking up the spicy broth – and it’s a good way to eat your vegetables. And it’s great for feeding a crowd – I know this because the two of us ate this for three meals in one week. So yeah, this feeds six.

Tunisian Lamb Couscous

Tunisian Lamb Couscous
Serves 6.

4-6 lamb chops
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion
2 courgettes
2 large carrots, peeled
1 turnip or daikon, peeled
Half a small white cabbage

A pinch of saffron
1 tbsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 1/2 tbsps tomato paste
2 bay leaves
A shake of ground cloves

1 tin chickpeas, drained
Salt and pepper
Couscous
Chopped parsley
Lemon
Harissa (I bought a tube)

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium high heat and brown the lamb chops on both sides. Cut all the vegetables into large chunks and add them all into the pot and stir it around a bit – they can go a little brown, that’s ok. Add water until everything’s covered and bring to a boil. Add the saffron, paprika, ginger, tomato paste, bay leaves and ground cloves and stir in. Let simmer until the lamb is tender and the vegetables are too – about 90 minutes to 2 hours. About an hour of the way in, add the chickpeas and continue simmering.

When you’re almost ready to serve, prepare your couscous, chop your parsley, cut your lemons into wedges for serving. Add salt and pepper to taste to the broth. Place couscous in a serving bowl and top with the lamb and some of the drained vegetables – scatter with a bit of chopped parsley. Serve bowls of the broth and more of the vegetables on the side. Serve with lemon wedges and harissa.

We arrived quite late on our first evening in Marseille and after dumping our stuff in our flat, we walked straight to the port, hoping that our noses would lead us to something good to eat. Unfortunately, most of the places we could see were chains or very expensive or blasting music (read: looking like a disco); later we would encounter the south side of the port and its plethora of tourist traps. It’s not easy to eat well by the port. There was one place on my list though – La Kahena, a Tunisian restaurant that was well rated. It was brightly lit and open (relatively) late and we got a table easily (it was a Tuesday night).

I couldn’t eat in a Tunisian restaurant and not have one of my favourite things in the world – brick (also spelled brik). This was a brick au thon, a thin pastry sheet filled with tuna, onion, parsley and egg and fried. Yes.

Brick au thon

We also split a couscous mechoui. Mechoui is a roasted lamb dish and sure enough, here was a big hunk of roasted lamb on our couscous…and lots of vegetables….and a boiled egg. Portion sizes were big here and we saw people ordering one for themselves and failing to make any significant indentation in their bowl.

Couscous Mechoui

On the side was a bowl of the broth the vegetables (and usually lamb) cook in. Pour it over the couscous and there’s some mighty fine eating.

Couscous Sauce

We finished the meal with sweet mint tea with nuts (pine nuts in my case and toasted almonds in Blai’s). I loved the pine nuts but we both got a bit fatigued by the almonds…there were just so many! (Not a normal complaint…) The Tunisian sweet we also ordered was alright, but had clearly been sitting around for a while.

Mint Tea with Nuts

La Kahena
2 Rue de la République
13001 Marseille
France

And that was our first taste of North African food in Marseille – we were hooked and we needed more. Luckily for us, there was a good restaurant only a 5 minute walk from our flat and we ate there twice during our visit. Their menu’s very similar to that at La Kahena but prices are lower (portion sizes were still large) – it’s only something like €7 for the basic lamb or chicken couscous. We found it quite easy to get a table (there were quite a few tables and most people didn’t linger).

We went for the most fancy couscous combination they had – the couscous royale. Again, couscous and the broth (the vegetables stayed in the broth this time) and a plate of meats.

Couscous Royale

Let’s take a closer look at that meat plate, shall we?

Boom.

All the Grilled Meat

A grilled lamb chop, braised lamb (in the vegetable broth), a beautifully braised tender meatball, a grilled lamb brochette and grilled merguez. It’s a bit too much meat for one but perfect for sharing between two.

And again, one of my favourite Tunisian things ever – another brick au thon! And it was another excellent specimen.

Brick au Thon

We even had it on our last night in the city (a Sunday). It being France, many restaurants were closed on Sunday night but not this place! We repeated the couscous and the brick as they were both brilliant and we added a salad as well.

Dinner

This was a mechouia salad – lettuce, tuna, boiled egg, tomato, olives and a roasted pepper relish. I loved those roasted peppers that seemed to pull everything together in this salad. Delicious.

Mechouia Salad

We finished our last meal in Marseille with mint tea….two mint teas each actually! Their tea was cheap and excellent – not too sweet. We did try their sweets but again, they were on the stale side – a bit of a letdown these sweets were.

Excellent Mint Tea

Saf Saf
29 rue Vincent Scotto
13001 Marseille
France

It’s no surprise that the French have embraced North African cuisine, especially couscous. It’s all delicious! If you’re interested in reading more about North African culture in Marseille, I recommend this article from the New York Times.

On the Askew Road, directly across the road from Sufi, sits Adams Cafe. It’s most likely that you’d pass right by without paying it much notice. By day, it’s an ordinary local cafe. By night, it’s a cosy restaurant serving food from Tunisia and Morocco. Run by a husband and wife team (he is Tunisian, she is English and affectionately known as ‘the boss’ by the former), the little cafe has been there for 15 years. I’m ashamed to say last week, we made our first visit there; I’ve passed it countless times but had never made it in. I’m not sure why. Of course, we went in the evening to try some of their north African dishes.

It took us a while to decide what we wanted to eat – everything looked superb on the menu. There were some very Moroccan dishes we recognised and a few Tunisian ones we didn’t and this being our first time there, we just ordered what appealed. Soon after we’d placed our orders, two little bowls of nibbles arrived at our table. Lightly pickled vegetables were a refreshing little bite and contrasted nicely with the braised spiced meatballs in the other bowl. A good start and I could barely wait for our food.

Lightly Pickled Vegetables Meatballs

My starter was the Brik au Thon – fan of crispy pastry with tuna, egg & herb filling. The huge brik stood in a lemon holder, looking very much like a peacock strutting its stuff. The tuna was nicely spiced, the egg yolk was still runny, and the pastry perfectly crisp. Imagine two Neanderthals ripping apart their huge joint of meat; we must have looked like that. The menu states that you can replace a main course with two starters; we discussed starting with a brik and then following with two further briks.

Brik au Thon

Blai chose the Sardines Sauce Chermoula – fresh sardines with chermoula sauce. Two large, fresh, grilled sardines with blistered skins arrived with the chermoula sauce in a little filo pastry cup. The sauce was quite strongly flavoured with plenty of herbs, lemon and garlic but it went well with the equally strongly flavoured fish. The fins and tail were moreishly crispy.

Sardines Sauce Chermoula

To follow, I wanted couscous and ordered the Couscous à l’Agneau – with lamb on the bone cooked in the sauce. I received a large bowlful of couscous, a tureen full of lamb and vegetables in a tomato based broth, and a plate to put together my meal. Wikipedia tells us that all of north Africa partake of these steamed granules of semolina. The combination of the gentle broth with the couscous was supremely comforting (I think it’s that combo of carbs soaked in liquid until mushy that makes it so). There was a very generous serving of lamb chunks in the broth along with lots of vegetables and chickpeas in the broth. Slurp!

Couscous

Couscous à l'Agneau

Blai saw the word lemon and then his eyes saw nothing else; for him, it had to be the Tagine de Poulet au Citron confit et Olives vertes – chicken, pickled lemons, green olives, potatoes. The chicken leg and potatoes were tender and sure enough, everything was infused with the flavour of the preserved lemons. But this is Morrocan, no? Apparently, a Tunisian tagine is more like a frittata. I didn’t see such a thing on their menu.

Tagine de Poulet au Citron confit et Olives vertes

We decided to split a dessert as we were both already quite full. It would be a Crêpe Berbère – Moroccan-style pancake with honey sauce. What arrived didn’t look promising – a perfectly round crêpe trimmed with a single mint leaf and dusted with powdered sugar. It just didn’t look very exciting. However, this became a good lesson on how not to judge things by its cover – this crêpe was thicker than a usual French specimen and had a tight honeycomb texture throughout (if you’re familiar with injera, that Ethiopian flatbread, this had the same texture but with none of the fermentation). And it acted like a sponge, soaked through with a thin honey and lightly citrus sauce. It was utterly gorgeous!

Crêpe Berbère

The pricing of their food is simple. One main course with tea or coffee is £11.50. A Menu Gourmet is two courses for £14.50. A Menu Gastronomique is all three courses for £16.95. And as I mentionned above, you can subsitute two starters for one main dish. With a bottle of water and gratuity, the total for all our food came to just under £40 for the two of us. Fab food at a fair price. We’ll be back for sure.

Adams Cafe
77 Askew Road
Shepherds Bush
London W12 9AH

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