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The Sultan Cafe: Cuisine of North Africa on a Cork Quay
Stopped in off Penrose Quay on a bitingly cold March night walked through the portals of The Sultan and landed on the balmy coast of North Africa, a warm welcome and a treasure trove of exotic dishes available to us at Taoufik Hammami's restaurant. On the way in, we pass theShisha Lounge, which doubles as reception and waiting area, complete with traditional pipes and a display of herbs and aromatic spices that are used in the cooking.
Under a tent-like ceiling, with long lengths of colourful material hanging loosely overhead, African music playing, the cuisine of that long coast, particularly those of Morocco and the Lebanon, are detailed on the extensive menu. Dishes such as Kaftas, Shish, Kofta, Kebab, Cous Cous, Shawarma, Salads, Baba Ghanoush, and Falafel all feature. Spices are used but more to impart flavour than heat.
It takes us a while to make up our minds. I’m looking at everything, the hummus, the vine leafs, the falafel, the sharing Mezzes, the Tabbouleh. In the end though I pick the Fattoush: mixed green salad, tomato, cucumber, parsley, onion, sumac, with pomegranate and oil dressing and cracked bread (7.95). Packed full of flavour and an amazing dressing, took a while to get through it.
We would find out that dishes here are very generous indeed. CL picked the Moussaka (a vegetable version), aubergines cooked with chickpeas, tomatoes, mixed peppers and spices, served with pitta bread. Again a generous mix of flavours and textures for 6.95.
The Morrocan selection on the mains is based mainly on tagine variations. Authentic Moroccan tagine (16.95) is a slow-cooked stew like dish, served in a traditional Moroccan clay pot, served with a choice of rice, couscous or bread. CL picked the couscous and the bubbling stew did come in the clay dish and was terrific, the couscous (a very generous helping again) served in another dish alongside. She had a choice of beef or lamb and picked the latter. It was cooked on the bone, Generous and delicious too. Lots of pieces of sweet fruit mixed in here, even a spud in the stew!
Meanwhile, I was happily making my way through a Lebanese dish. I had quite a few to choose from: Kafta Lahem (lamb mince), Taouk (chicken breast) and Dawood Basha (spiced meat balls) to choose from. I settled for the Mixed Meat Shawarma (14.95), pieces of chicken and lamb marinated in a lightly spiced garlic and onion mix, grilled on skewers and served with mixed salad, garlic sauce, pitta bread and a choice of rice or chips (rice for me!). Tender, tasty, slightly spiced and overall delicious.
Baklava features strongly on the desserts and do watch out for the Almond finger baklava soaked in honey and topped up with Pistachio. If you can’t manage it at the end of eh meal, don't worry they’ll wrap it up for you and you can enjoy it later on at home. And if want more sometime, don't forget they have a shop in McCurtain Street (near the Met) where they also sell Turkish Delight! And you’ll more than likely see a Sultan stall at various markets and festivals.
In 2001, two French golfers went to Morocco to play. A few stray shots later and they bought this estate. Gérard Gribelin (Chateau de Fieuzal) and Philippe Gervoson (Chateau Larrivet-Haut-Brion) knew their stuff, invested in their new 85 hectare vineyard and soon their Bordeaux experience was reaping rewards in Africa.
This Volubilia is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), with Syrah, Mourvedre and Tempranillo and has a mid to dark cherry colour. Nose is fairly intense with cherry, blackcurrant, meat and smoke. Big supple palate, juicy and fruity and just a hint of soft tannins, a touch of spice also. A velvety soft red with a long dry finish.
Volubilis, a partly excavated Berber and Roman settlement and an UNESCO heritage site, is 45 minutes away from the vineyard and in this series of wines you’ll also find a white, a rosé and a gris. And that gris featured in the 2017 novel There was a crooked manby Irish writer Cat Hogan. Both the wine and the thriller are Highly Recommended.
Domaine de la Ville Rouge “Inspiration” Croze-Hermitage (AP) 2015, 13%, €22.95
This gorgeous youngish Syrah is organically produced, matured 12 months in stainless steel (80%) and in oak (20%). Try it, they say, with poultry, red meats ad cheese. I had it with a fairly young cheddar and it was perfect.
It has quite a dark red robe. Plum and spice on the nose, rather ripe plums. Fresh and medium bodied, that plum is an assertive character on the concentrated palate, good acidity though, close to smooth tannins, approachable and easy-drinking, yet with a certain elegance. Young or not, this is a fairly serious wine and Very Highly Recommended. By the way, no guarantee that a glass of Inspiration will lead to a novel!
Don't judge a book by the cover. The plain label on the Gamay could well lead you to believe this is a bottom shelf wine whereas it is anything but. Perhaps, especially if you bought bottom shelf Moroccan wines on French holidays years ago, you wouldn't be expecting a great deal from the Volubilia but it is a lovely surprise. And no surprise really with the Italian. You'd expect this to be good and it is very good indeed.
Clos du Tue-Boeuf Gamay 2015, Vin de France, 12%, €18.85 Le Caveau
Light red, fairly typical of the grape, is the colour of this natural beauty. The aromas are of strawberries and raspberries. On the vibrant palate, you'll find the same mix of fruit flavours, with a light tang of cider apples; it is light and fresh and smooth for sure, fine tannins and then a long finish.
The two Puzelat brothers, regarded, by Jamie Goode, as “natural wine royalty”, mature this for 4-6 months in large wooden vats. The organic grapes are bought in from trusted local winegrowers in the Loire. “The wines are quite unique, highly expressive of their terroir, authentic, filled with life and have a very strong personality.” That lively personality is very evident, pleasingly so, in this example and it is Very Highly Recommended. By the way, it is neither filtered nor fined, so do decant!
La Zouina Volubilia Classic Red, Morocco 2012, 13.5%, €22.95 Le Caveau
This is a relatively new French run chateau. Bordeaux know-how plus freedom to experiment has helped produce this excellent result from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Syrah, Mourvedre, and Tempranillo.
Colour is medium red. And the aromas include warm blackcurrant. It is medium bodied, smooth and fresh, well endowed with concentrated berry flavours, medium spice, fine tannins. It is well balanced with a long and juicy finish. A surprise from Africa and Very Highly Recommended.
Ascheri Coste & Bricco Barolo (DOCG) 2010, 14.5%, €47.00 (down to 30 in recent Fine Wine sale) O’Brien Wines
No surprise that this one was good as I had tasted it at the O’Brien Wine Fair in Cork. Nebbiolo is the grape here. Made from two select plots from Ascheri’s single vineyard, this is their top cuvée.
The wine has spent 26 months in Slavonian barrels, six months in steel and a further nine in bottle before release. According to Grapes & Wines, Italian Nebbiolo ages better than those of California and Australia. And indeed the producers reckon this will last for 18 to 20 years if kept in a cool dark place.
I couldn't wait that long to tuck into this garnet coloured wine. Small red fruits feature in the aromas, also some herbal hints. It has a palate full of rich flavours, spice too and an acidity that helps put all in harmony. This elegant and inviting wine is Very Highly Recommended.
They, Ascheri, recommended matching it with hard mature cheese, pheasant, pigeon, roast lamb and beef, Mediterranean vegetables. I've tried and tested it here with Parmesan and Walnut crusted rack of lamb with roasted vegetables, the lamb bought at our local craft butchers, Davidson’s of Montenotte, Cork.