In the heart of Essaouira, Morocco, just off Avenue de l’Istiqlal, in the jewellery quarter, is a gem of a restaurant called Caravane Cafe. From the moment you walk in off the little side street you’re left in no doubt this is going to be an interesting evening.
The first thing that strikes you is the vibrant colours, huge wall to wall paintings, with reds, yellows and blues, jumping out between large green tropical plants in a central courtyard with balconies overlooking.
The waiters are turned out in immaculate white shirts and black waistcoats, and wouldn’t look out of place in Paris. Our table for four is on the second floor (first floor depending on your definition of the ground).
We’re led into a cosy lounge with four tables, low arm chairs, and decadent lighting. A French family of three and a young Dutch couple are already sat down.
Before we study the menu the kids order mocktails, virgin mojitos, Becky tries a punch coco, while I go for Martini blanc on the rocks, a 1980s aperitif having a comeback of sorts.
We agree to share chicken and almond filo pastries, and a fish cocktail with diced mango and citrus sorbet to start.
The decor and flavours remind me of the clash of cultures in Zanzibar where east African meets the Far East. Fruit and spice combining to mess with your senses.
Even the wooden carvings in the courtyard are reminiscent of Stone Town.
The fish in the tropical cocktail has been ‘cooked’ by the acid from the fruit, and is tender and succulent like the finest sashimi.
The chicken filo pastries dusted in sugar and cinnamon (too much for Orlaigh aged 9).
For the mains the two girls shared lamb chops, Becky opted for lamb tagine, and I went for duck.
The lamb chops marinated in herbs and barbequed, the tagine cooked with prunes slowly so the meat tears apart effortlessly. My duck breast is huge and prepared medium rare ‘as the chef prefers’.
The duck is served with the skin plate side down, with an accompaniment of mashed potatoes, green beans, carrot and parsnip.
It is tender, succulent and although I’d normally prefer the fat to be rendered a little longer, I don’t leave a morsel.
I’ve noticed here in Morocco my normal pace of eating has slowed (I notoriously eat too fast). And the size of the portion sizes has been less daunting as a result.
The service at Caravane Cafe was polite and attentive, the only slight delay when we waited to order desserts, exacerbated by the tiredness of the kids. But when we do order our sweets, we are encouraged to share the mixed platter.
When it arrives, all four of us immediately perk up. 120 DH (roughly £10) for five different dishes didn’t disappoint. Orlaigh seizes the raspberry sorbet, I grab the chocolate fondant (cooked to perfection), Amelie switches between the rich chocolate ice cream and the gooey salted caramel upturned tart. Becky meanwhile devours the fruit gateaux.
The entire experience, because that’s what it was, came to less than £100 including cocktails and drinks with the meal.
As we left the owner himself enquired in French whether we’d enjoyed our meal. His caricatured image captured in cartoon on a picture besides the entrance, and his artistry hung on every wall, and seemingly displayed on every plate of food.