. Restaurants .

Posted: Monday, January 23, 2012 at 8:58 PM
Location: El Bahia, Corner Clarendon St & Wicklow St
Dining companions: My man

It’s a Moroccan stand-off! Based on a recommendation from a friend I reviewed Dada (Moroccan restaurant on William Street South) before Christmas.  Afterwards I did a bit of googling and found out there was another Moroccan restaurant in Dublin that a few people seemed to think was the best!

So on Friday night before I went to see Dara O’Brian at Vicar Street, me and my man went for an early bite at El Bahia. Walking up to the restaurant provoked one of those, ‘well I’ve never noticed that before’ moments – I must have walked past it 100 times.  It sits upstairs on the corner of Clarendon Street and Wicklow Street.

As soon as you enter the doorway to El Bahia, you’re caught up in the Moroccan mood – a combo of the decor and the music being piped through as you ascend to the restaurant. When you arrive they take your coat and wash your hands – yep, wash your hands.  Possibly very traditional in Morocco, but not something I’ve seen before.

We arrived at about 6.45pm and already it was about half full – we took our small table for two and settled in to absorb the menu.  I did have in the back of my mind that I wanted to be able to compare El Bahia and Dada, so I made some similar selections.  For starter I had liver marinated in sharmoula and stir friend, as the liver I had in Dada was possibly one of my favourite starters of 2011.  Next up I went for marinated lamb cooked in a date and fig sauce.  My man opted for marinated anchovies followed by rabbit cooked in olive oil, garlic, saffron, caramelised onion and sweet sultanas.  All washed down by a Casablanca beer for me and a glass of merlot for the man (the only red option available by the glass).

Oh, how disappointed can a girl be?  My starter was really such a flop.  The liver was so over-cooked and solid.  Cutting through it was a real effort, and it was all quite dry – there was no sauce or anything, it was just served on top of dressed salad.  I did find one of the larger pieces of liver was slightly less over done so I tucked into that - it was ok, but the spices didn’t really come through.
As my plate was taken away the waiter did ask me if it was all ok, and I was a chicken.  I said ‘it was grand, thanks’.  Wimp.  In hindsight I think I should maybe have put my hand up and said something – but I’m not quite sure what.  They didn’t ask me how I wanted it cooked, and it certainly wasn’t burnt or anything of the like.  Anyway, as everyone we met was so nice I should at least have maybe given them the feedback.

My man had more success on his starter – his marinated anchovies were basically boquerones, and were tasty and plentiful.

On to the mains....  I was a bit nervous after my starter, but no need – they were delicious!  My lamb flaked apart and the sauce was fabulous.  It was dark and smooth with plenty of sweet juicy figs to add to every mouthful and a real depth of flavour that I just can’t seem to achieve at home. MMMmmmmm.  The rabbit was a little more delicate in flavour and went down very well with every mouthful gobbled up and just a small piles on bones left.  Both dishes were served so hot they were still bubbling away on the table – I did feel lucky not to burn the mouth off myself, and my man did think with his more delicate dish it stopped the flavour coming through, for example with the sultanas!  We had a bowl of light and fluffy cous cous as well.  

So overall I might have just preferred my main at El Bahia, but there wouldn’t be much in it, and my starter at Dada was a clear winner.  El Bahia is a little cheaper with starters typically being €5.50 – €6.50 (Dada: €7 - €8), and mains €15 - €18 (Dada: €17 - €19).  Both do any Early bird as well – at El Bahia you can  have 2 course for €15 or 3 courses for €20, and at Dada you get 2 course with mint tea for €20.  I think for a quick bite I’d probably head back to El Bahia first, but for a longer more relaxed affair – Dada, and fingers crossed the liver starter is as good second time around.  We paid €55 for 2 courses each with 2 drinks.