The Jakarta Post -- WEEKENDER | Thu, 01/29/2009 9:15 PM |
Surprisingly, considering Jakarta’s historical and cultural ties to the Middle East, it hasn’t been easy to find food from the region in this city, except for a few Lebanese eateries. Award-winning Maroush provides a seductive smorgasbord of fare from Morocco and beyond.
A restaurant’s overindulgence in elaborate decor and florid decoration can initially be grounds for suspicion. Sometimes, unfortunately, it’s not just a case of a design pixie being left to run riot with her not-so-magic wand. Instead, it’s a deliberate surfeit of style over substance, with the gloss and glitz meant to make up for the shortcomings from the kitchen.
Thankfully, that cannot be said of the gorgeously appointed Maroush – a swirl of burnished, seductive reds, paintings and traditional fabrics hanging on the walls – that also serves up flavorsome food as sumptuous as the decor. It’s located in the former haunt of a tapas bar in the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
As the name indicates, the restaurant offers Moroccan cuisine, the exotically spiced dishes that represent a culinary crossroads of Europe and North Africa, and the various peoples who have settled in the country. For lovers of Moroccan food living in Jakarta, it is a godsend (Arab food is also found at the resilient Sinbad on Jl. K.S. Tubun, next to the Santika hotel, and the Lebanese restaurant on Jl. Sabang, Central Jakarta, among others).
For those new to the delicacies, and who have yet to learn their baba ghanoush from their baklava, chef Abderrahim Touqo is on hand to give gentle pointers.
A native of the historic coastal city of Safi, Touqo studied law in university but was drawn back to his love of the kitchen. He learned to cook from his mother and sisters; they would show him how to make a dish and then tell him to do it. “Mine was always better,” he says with a smile.
Touqo, a three-year resident of Jakarta, says he experiments with the tradition of Moroccan cuisine.
“I create new dishes, making things more modern. You know from the taste it’s Moroccan but new ... I take some vegetables and add some spice or something. When you try it, you’ll like it.”
As a hybrid of cuisines of the region, Morocco’s two main claims to culinary fame are couscous – a type of rolled semolina, served with meat or vegetables or made into a salad – and the tajine, a clay pot that is used to stew dishes. Cumin and coriander are the most frequently used spices.
“We put everything into the tajine, vegetables, meat or chicken. We don’t put any water in it, it cooks itself from the water in the food,” Touqo says.
Bread is a meal staple, eaten three times a day. “We have lots and lots of breads,” Touqo says, reciting a long list that includes mouth-watering fillings of tomato, lamb, onions or olives.
“Each region has its own specialty.”
He concedes that many Indonesians are reluctant to try Moroccan cuisine because of a wariness about unfamiliar spices and ingredients. But he adds that they are quickly won over when they step into Maroush.
“They’re afraid at first, but when they come here they try something and like it, and they’ll keep coming back to order it again.”
For a taste of Morocco, the chef put together a menu of meze to please our palates. They included zaalouk, a combination of eggplant, tomatoes and spices, and hummus with olive oil, eaten with a selection of Moroccan and Turkish breads. There was also a hot appetizer of chicken bastilla, an unusual, Moorish combination of sweet and sour spiced chicken, mixed with crushed almonds (an important ingredient in Moroccan dishes) and onions, stuffed into filo pastry and dusted with sugar and cinnamon.
For the main course, Touqo presented couscous with salmon and a sprinkling of raisins and nuts, with the fish an alternative to the commonly used lamb or vegetables. I’ve had couscous before, but it was always a bit too overdone. In the chef’s masterful hands, it retained an al dente bite – quite a revelation.
It was served with harissa, Morocco’s own version of chili paste. “It’s not so hot now, but you’ll remember the taste for a long time,” Touqo says.
With refreshing glasses of mint tea, we then moved on to sampling squares of baklava, served in the Turkish (with a pistachio filling) and the Moroccan (using almonds) versions. It was a very sweet end to a great meal.
The true test of a meal is whether the diner will return in the future and pay his or her own way.
I can safely say that I have, and will continue to do so, for an outstanding night on the town.
Crowne Plaza Hotel, 2nd Floor
Jl. Jend. Gatot Subroto Kav. 2-3
Tel. 021 52892431
Signature Dishes: Couscous and food from the tajine, of course, but the restaurant also makes a mean chicken shish kebab, lamb skewers and lamb served with prunes. A selection of its hot or cold meze (recently voted the best in the city by a lifestyle magazine), served with bread, can make a meal in itself for two diners.
Veggie Options: Veggies and vegans are catered to in the many salads, breads and vegetable main courses on the menu. Chef Touqo also will make a meal according to the dietary needs of a diner, as he did recently on a visit with someone who eschews all animal products except for cheese.
Extras: Maroush is home to the city’s most venerable champagne bar. There are also nightly performances by a belly dancer, which leads to further fun as diners let loose with some moves of their own. The restaurant also has a Sunday brunch for those who want to sample a little bit of (almost) everything from the menu.
Expect to Pay: Making a full meal of it, with a couple of appetizers, main meals and a shared dessert, will set you back about Rp 350,000-Rp 400,000 (not including drinks).
+ Bruce Emond
Photos by R. Berto Wedhatama