Dar Les Cigognes, Marrakech Morocco

The escorted tour of Morocco has come to end and I’ve arranged to spend the last leg of my holiday in Marrakech, staying a private riad in the heart of the medina, and undertaking my own culinary adventure for the remainder of my time in Morocco. My internet search on cooking classes in Morocco had recommended Dar Les Cigognes which by all accounts is the preferred destination for those who take their Moroccan cuisine seriously. Yotam Ottolenghi filmed the Moroccan segment of his Mediterranean Feast cooking series there and the team from Williams-Sonoma featured a culinary day within this riad in their blog. And to top it off, the June 2013 edition of Delicious magazine had a Marrakesh feature which included Dar Les Cigognes so after a week after my last class in Fes, I was anxious to start cooking again.

Finding my way to Dar Les Cigognes was a small adventure in itself, but thankfully I made it just in time for my scheduled afternoon class. Stepping into the boutique riad was a contrast from the busy street outside. Cool and tranquil with a stunning, elegantly designed interior, it was a welcome relief to sit in the cool and listen to the sound of running water for a few brief moments. I was introduced to Pierre Herve, the General Manager of the riad, who took me on a personal guided tour of the mellah (the Jewish quarter of the medina) and I learnt a little about its history and the architecture. Walking around the labyrinth of alleyways to see the furan (communal oven) used for baking bread and then taking a detour via a narrow passage through the local hamman to get to the small neighbourhood market, we walked throughout the different sections of the souk where Pierre explained the different facets of Moroccan cuisine and market life.

Returning back to the hotel, I was led into the large kitchen within the riad and introduced to dada Fouzia who I would be cooking with in a hands-on class. Many Moroccan women who cook, do so by touch, taste and instinct and have learnt these recipes traditionally over years of repetition and so unlike the cooking classes I enjoy back home, I had to write my own notes as I also prepared each dish from scratch!

My first challenge was to make my own warqa pastry so I diligently watched as the dough was prepared, mentally taking my own notes as the mixture was spread expertly onto a hot frypan set over boiling water with a thick paintbrush. When cooked, the layer of pastry is then peeled from the pan and oiled to keep moist. Then it was my turn! My first attempt at warqa wasn’t too bad and regaining renewed confidence, I managed to create the ten sheets of pastry required to make b’steeya with no rejects! Next we cooked the seafood filling for the b’steeya and then started to prepare a selection of Moroccan appetisers, including zaalouk, grated zucchini and sweet tomato salad.

Pierre was concerned that I would be hungry just eating salad and b’steeya and so as an added bonus, Fouzia also graciously showed me how to make seven-vegetable balboula which included making couscous from scratch, hand-rolled and steamed three times over boiling water. Throughout each cycle, I put both of my hands into the steamed couscous to separate the grains with dollops of oil and salt. I think by the third round, my red hands put up a protest as it became harder to bear the hot temperature of the couscous and get the airflow required to fluff the grains properly. In my mind, I was thinking this was way too hard and that when I got back home, I was still going to resort to instant couscous anyway!

With the selection of vegetables steaming on the stove and the b’steeya browning in the oven, I kissed Fouzia good-bye and went upstairs to the rooftop of the riad to watch the sun slowly set over the medina and eat my handiwork with a glass of red wine.


Red Robyn, Camberwell

Next on the shortlist of cafes to visit in my temporary new location in the South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne is Red Robyn. I read an article on Red Robyn last year in The Age and had taken note of it as a place to visit. I excitedly set off from home and after a quick ten minute walk through the beautiful tree lined streets, I found it amongst a nondescript strip of older shops in Camberwell Road, away from the traffic thoroughfare of the Junction.

Walking into a large, light filled room with white walls, high ceilings, industrial design lighting and sunshine from the shop front windows, it was difficult to know where to sit as both of the main dining areas were warm and inviting.

Red Robyn predominately caters for food intolerances and allergies, therefore the menu had variety and lots of interesting combinations of food to choose from. After a couple of read throughs, it was a toss up between the Sweet Potato Rosti and the Dukkah Eggs. The Dukkah Eggs won.

Dukkah Eggs - chickpea pattie, prosciutto, poached eggs, house-dried tomatoes, labna and pepita seed dukkah - Red Robyn, Camberwell
Dukkah Eggs – chickpea pattie, prosciutto, poached eggs, house-dried tomatoes, labna and pepita seed dukkah – Red Robyn, Camberwell

The presentation of the Dukkah Eggs dish was visually spectacular. So much so, that when my breakfast arrived, a couple who had just arrived and were seated near me, were staring at my plate and both ordered the same dish.

Looks aside, there were a lot of elements on this dish with varying degrees of distinctive flavours and according to my palate, not all of them blended well together. The large chickpea pattie dominated the plate, so that was where I started. Cooked well on the outside, the chickpea mixture was tough and dry on the outer layer, with a soft and mushy centre. The pattie didn’t seem to have any particular flavour or seasoning and at one point, it reminded me of eating sawdust. The labna would have made a nice accompaniment, but it was primarily served with the cooked tomatoes on another part of the plate. The labna was tart with a sharp natural yoghurt taste but was edible when eaten with either the pattie or the tomato. I presumed the prosciutto would be cooked, but sadly no. Trust me but cold, cured salted meat with labna and cooked chickpeas isn’t a new taste sensation. The dukkah, poached eggs and tomatoes were beautifully cooked and stopped me from abandoning breakfast altogether.

Coffee though was excellent, as is the service and ambience. Though I didn’t particularly appreciate what I ordered, I am thinking of going back to try the Sweet Potato Rosti with salmon and haloumi, and I did I mention that there are three different varieties of French Toast on the menu?

The Old Barber Shop, Richmond

Coming home on the tram after last weekend’s breakfast adventure, I spied a busy little cafe within an old home near Bridge Road and remembered that was another place that I wanted to try out. After a little investigating on Urbanspoon, I found out the name and address and made a beeline for The Old Barber Shop.

A friend of mine told me that the kitchen was not quite equipped as other cafes so I knew that my beloved French Toast wasn’t going to be on the menu, but that gave me the opportunity to explore and try something new.

After reviewing the menu, I selected the Croque Madame. I’ve had a Croque Monsieur in Paris but this was a whole new ball game for me. I’m slightly fussy with my eggs, as my friends and family well know and when ordering I will ask for my eggs to be hard poached or avoid them all together!

Croque Madame - The Old Barber Shop, Richmond
Croque Madame – The Old Barber Shop, Richmond

When my dish arrived, I nearly had heart palpitations when I saw the form of the “fried” egg. It distinctly didn’t look fried whatsoever but sending it back to the kitchen didn’t appear to be an option … more on that later.

I’ve had beef tartare with raw egg, so it was time to toughen up and eat. With much trepidation, I started on the outskirts of my meal and dug in. The bread was thick with molten cheese and tender succulent ham and was absolutely delicious … but I was eating closer to that egg and I didn’t see any chance of escape. The underneath of the egg was well cooked and letting my egg rest was a good decision, and was not quite so liquid when I was prepared to eat it. Runny egg or not, my dish was delicious and deceptively indulgent and I almost sighed when there was nothing left to eat.

Maybe Jamie Oliver is to blame but I’m starting to enjoy food served on wooden boards, and I enjoyed the pleasure of physically tearing away at my breakfast and the thick toast and hardening cheese with only the brute strength I could muster on a Saturday morning, without the clink and clunk of steel on china.

Croque Madame - The Old Barber Shop, Richmond
Croque Madame – The Old Barber Shop, Richmond

Now dare I mention the service … something is not quite right when you have to ask for the menu; to call an attendant over to ask for another coffee, and then watch them walk away while your empty plate and original drained coffee cup remain on the table before you; and then walk to into the cafe some ten minutes later and remind the same person that you are only standing there so you can pay for what you ate … and it’s not all that busy!

Putting that aside, the ambience of sitting on the front verandah, the delicious coffee and indulging in warm bread, ham and cheese was a wonderful start to my weekend.