Greek Street is one of my favourite corners of London. It has the feel of a village with heaps of charm preserved from another era.
It was originally called Hogs Lane, but is thought to have been called Greek Street since 1679. It probably takes its name from a Greek church which was built in 1677 in Crown Street, just around the corner. It’s mainly the 19th century buildings that remain and they are evocative of those times. Charles Dickens used a house in Greek Street as a model for the London lodgings of Dr Manette and Lucy in his novel A Tale of Two Cities. Venetian adventurer, ladies man and author Giacomo Casanova also called this street home for a while, and the area has long been associated with risqué pleasures, although these days there are a good number of very decent restaurants to which one could safely invite one’s great aunt Matilda.
Your well-travelled auntie would love Maison Touareg for lunch (it does, however, offer vibrant entertainment on some evenings). She would recognise the restaurant as having facets reminiscent of cafés and eateries in Marrakesh: rich colours, sumptuous soft furnishings, wood and leather. Maison Touareg is exotic but still comfortable and romantic.
The restaurant occupies a corner plot with views onto those aforementioned historic streets. There are cushioned benches outside to tempt those who want to enjoy a relaxing puff of a shisha, but most visitors will head inside to enjoy simple and delicious North African fare.
If you are new to Moroccan cuisine then you might be reassured to know that there is nothing extreme on the menu. Its flavour palette relies mostly on aromatic spices rather than fiery ones. There are some dishes that are well laced with chilli but for the most part your meal will just be packed with taste.
The menu isn’t huge but it offers a true representation of dishes found in Morocco and its neighbours. We sipped on sweet mint tea while we relaxed with the menu. Do have at least one pot of the national beverage during your meal. It will put you in the mood.
We started with, naturally enough, starters. Small plates to excite the taste-buds and to get the gastric juices flowing. Samboussek – meat pastry filled with minced meat, onion, pine kernels and parsley – are miniature pasties. Lamb perfumed with a little cinnamon, light golden pastry rather than the filo that I had expected. Moreish.
Batata Harrah – spicy sautéed potatoes with red pepper, coriander, garlic, cumin and fresh chilli – is one of the spiciest dishes on the menu, cubes of potatoes with gems of glowing peppers. A grazing dish to go along with a beer, perhaps.
Labneh – strained yoghurt mixed with cucumber, garlic and fresh mint – was surprisingly rich and creamy. A cooling foil to those scrumptious spuds previously ordered.
Tagines in Moroccan cuisine are slow-cooked stews. They take their name from the cooking pot which is traditionally of terracotta with a distinctive conical lid. We chose chicken with mixed herbs, saffron and green olives. The meat was tender, although I would have liked the saffron to have been more evident. A comforting must-try dish and substantial when served with a bowl of fluffy cous cous.
Mouhalabiyeh – Damascus fragrant milk pudding, topped with pomegranate couli – is a striking dessert for all fans of Turkish Delight. It has the texture of blancmange but the flavour is truly exotic. A Lebanese classic.
Maison Touareg will be my retreat when I am in the vicinity of Greek Street. It’s a corner in which to relax and a restaurant with unfussy but tempting food. A winner for a solitary sip of sweet mint tea or a convivial meal with friends.
Maison Touareg Moroccan and Lebanese Restaurant
23-24 Greek Street
London W1D 4DZ
Restaurant: 020 7439 1063
Reservations: 020 7734 7006
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018