- Location: El Cantara, 45 Frith Street, London, W1D 4SD (nearest tube station is Tottenham Court Road)
- Date of Visit: Saturday 29th March
- Time of Table: 1.00pm
- Deal Bought From: Wowcher
- Deal Price: £20 for Two
- Dinner Companion: Twin sister Jess
Getting More for your Money?
This dinner deal includes:
- Afternoon tea for two
What we ate…
- Batbout bread with Zaalouk
- Chicken Kofta
- Cheesy Briouattes
- Salmon Moroccan Sandwiches
- Roast Beef Moroccan Sandwiches
- Moroccan Cakes
- Walnut Ghribia
- Almond Ghribia
- Gezalle Horn
What we drank…
- Mint tea
- Turkish apple tea
What did we think?
Tucked away down the hidden cobbled streets snuggled behind the bustling Tottenham Court Road, El Cantara, an authentic Moroccan and Spanish restaurant, is nothing much to look at from the outside. A plain beige terraced building, the drab outside is a stark and startling juxtaposition with the magical and vibrant world within, which literally slaps you in the face as you enter, firstly as you are confronted by fresh and bright orange walls.
El Cantara almost feels like a treasure trove smuggled from Disney’s Aladdin, with a fantastically traditional feel that is fun, gorgeous and in no way overbearing. As well as the burnt orange furnishing the walls, there is also classic tile work, with black and white half-moon shaped stencil art ensuring the vivid colour is not to lurid to look at. The walls are also adorned with elaborate polished gold ornaments that transport you straight back to the Middle East. Despite being here at lunch time with the sunlight in full throttle, the delicate lampshades couldn’t help but catch my eye with their ornate metal work and red coloured glass. The rooms were incredibly airy and with plenty of space, although this is most likely because there was just us and one other table being occupied – I can easily imagine a busy dinner service being uncomfortably cramped as the gold plated tables were rather close together.
Spread over three floors, you could clearly see there was immense attention to detail in the decoration – the venue was beautifully furnished, but in a very natural and welcoming way. We both felt instantly at ease and relaxed which is always great when you are out to enjoy your food. Our table was simply dressed with a striped orange and red fabric table runner, square black plates and the knick knacks for tea making in the centre, our afternoon tea menus balanced on our plates. We were ideally seated right next to a small bay window, so we had the guilty pleasure of people watching as well as plenty of the beaming sunshine, which was lovely. The table was gold with fancy scrolling artwork beaten into it, which was unusual and appealing. The table had a hard chair one side and sofa seating the other – luckily Jess managed to nab the wonderful looking sofa seat. Covered in stunning black, white and orange leaf patterned fabric trimmed with twisted golden tassels, the cushions looked wonderfully plump and perfect to lean back against, so I must confess to being a tad jealous as I descended into the brown leather covered dining chair opposite.
My first impressions had all been top notch and I was looking forward to seeing what the afternoon tea would deliver. A Moroccan afternoon tea is an unusual concept as well as being an imaginative one, so I was really hoping they could pull it off. We firstly got to choose our drinks, and we were able to pick from an extensive list of herbal teas, or we could also go for Turkish coffee if we wanted. Fancying something light and refreshing, I settled on the Turkish apple tea for something a little bit different, while Jess went for a classic mint tea, reminding her of her holiday in Morocco. Much to my surprise, my tea turned up a deep red colour – oddly enough I was expecting it to be green like apple juice. Served in a plain white cup and saucer it was actually surprising good for a fruit tea, which I usually find to be incredibly bland and not worth the time or money. This Turkish apple tea however was really lovely with soft yet fresh apple tones that really hit the spot for something clean tasting. Jess’s mint tea arrived in a dinky silver teapot, ready to be poured into a small orange glass sitting on a white plate. It smelt mildly minty and was a lot softer in taste than I was expecting, although it still reminded me too much of toothpaste for me to want any more than a sample sip.
Our afternoon tea turned up at the table served on a two tier, black slate cake stand. The bottom layer looked to be the savoury section, with small bite-sized pastries cluttered elegantly on the upper tier. I started by tucking into a small, round brown bread roll filled with flaky salmon. The fish was really tasty, although the bread tasted a smidge too hard, like it had been left out overnight, although I don’t know whether this is how it is meant to be as I have never really sampled Moroccan breads before. There was also a vegetable style chutney in the same style roll, the filling oozing out the edges in globules as we took a bite. It also had a bit of a kick to it as well as a thicker texture which was nice.
Also from the savoury selection were pancake like wraps, filled with a thick cream cheese that has been peppered with herbs, mint I suspect, that added an extra vibrancy to the flavour. Again the wrap had that hard bite to it, but I really loved the pancake style flavour, especially with the soft and creamy filling – these were so moreish. We also particularly liked the chicken kofta style parcels. Yellow spiced chicken had been wrapped in an elaborate filo pastry present, dusted with cinnamon. It was quite tricky to break in to but once we did, I thorough enjoyed the hearty chicken filling. Oddly enough the chicken was served on the top tier with the sweet nibbles so we ended up eating these last which didn’t seem the proper order of things!
The upper tier held the majority of the sweet pastries, which on the whole were much of a muchness. Filo pastry seemed to have been glued together with a caramel flavoured thick syrup that deliciously drenched the desserts and acted as a glue to hold the layers together. Some contained a goopy fig filling, like a puree, which just wrapped up in different styles of pastry – one for example was housed in a firm cake-like sponge while for another the fig morsel was wrapped in a thicker puff pastry covered in sesame seeds. Some were scattered with almonds and some with pistachios adding a taste crunch to each mouthful. There were also sweet pancake wraps on this top deck that were filled with what looked like a set white custard, although it had a blander taste than normal custard. Whatever it was, it was yummy and it disappeared rather quickly.
Even though these pastries were super sweet, they weren’t over the top and we could easily manage to munch our way through all of the food easily. Even though I was full, I still had room for more, and I must confess it didn’t really look like enough food, especially since we were having this for our lunch. It was also rather annoying, as they only put one of each kind of pastry in the selection, and since we both wanted to try everything, we ended up cutting everything in half which is rather pesky when they are bite-sized to start with. A few things there were two off, such as the savoury rolls and wraps as well as the sweet pancakes, but most things we had to divide. I loved the taste of the sweet nibbles and the syrupy pastry piles were faultless in flavour, enhanced by the mix of nuts. The savoury bits were yummy too, although they did look and taste like they had been left out for a tad too long as they were a bit too dry for my liking, although I still thought they were ok.
For a tenner each, I figured I could probably get quite a bit more food for my money, however the novelty factor here was huge and it was great to explore a new venue that we hadn’t been in before and that was done up so nicely. Talking to the waitress afterwards, she explained that they had a new menu every month, so they must also rotate their food based on what is seasonal which is a nice touch. We checked out the main menu on the way out, and it was all about the tapas and tagines, so quite restricted choice wise, but we reckoned the food would be super authentic and completely delicious if the afternoon was anything to go by. On the whole I would say a thumbs up, although not as energetically as I would have originally liked.