Chef-owner Said Ibrahimi, from the defunct Pasha Restaurant, started his culinary career as a dishwasher. At 5am, he, a schoolboy then, traveled from Morocco to Spain to wash dishes for the French navy during Fleet Week. He washed from 7.30am to 7pm because, according to him, “the French use lots of plates and glasses for their courses and wines.” Once in a while, he would sneak into the kitchen to peep at the bustling chefs, bathed in golden light, dancing and orchestrating, tinkling pots and clinkering pans for a perfect meal. His dream of becoming a chef began.
Chafchaouen Tajine – meatballs
Like Pasha, Pastilla focuses on halal Moroccan and Mediterranean food. Unlike Pasha, Pastilla is a casual and affordable place. Much of the decorative pieces, spices and flour are brought from Morocco. When I mentioned the decor could be improved, that fluorescent lights should be switched off to showcase the beautiful Moroccan lamps, Chef Said agreed but customers thought the restaurant was closed due to dim lighting–so the fluorescent remains on. Goodbye bad lomance.
Freshly home-baked bread
Decor aside, the food was delightful and much better than Pasha. That’s because Chef Said is his own boss, has full control of the kitchen, and doesn’t need to answer to anyone but himself. As a result, the food may take some time to arrive. “I am not cooking burgers,” Said said. “The food leaves my kitchen when it’s perfect.”
And perfect the food was. For starters, both dips, hummus ($5.50) and mohammara ($6.20, above), were superb. The hummus had a less earthly taste than usual hummus and had more zest, giving a lighter and refreshing sensation. Mohammara is a dip originated from Syria and made with roasted red pepper, walnut and pomegranate molasses – it had a smoky, tangy sweetness laced with a little spice that was exciting and complex.
Bread for dips is made fresh in-house from imported Moroccan flour. Baking is Chef Said’s second love and he may bake several types of bread when he is free. So if you order sandwiches, you may sometimes choose the type of baguette. I highly recommend the merguez sandwich ($7.90) that came with an interesting homemade lamb sausage (pictured above without baguette) that was a little spicy but had a complexity.
For the mains, the Chafchaouen Tajine ($16.90), well-marinated beef meatballs in tomato sauce, was surprisingly light but for the adventurous, go for the roasted chicken ($7.90 half/ $14.90 whole). The slightly charred skin gave a pleasant bitterness, which was counterbalanced by the pungent saffron sauce made from ras el hanout or 20 over spices. Pungent because of an interesting ingredient in the sauce: aged butter for 9 months, the same time for a baby to be born. It tasted similar to blue cheese, which I love very much. This is one of the most interesting dish I’ve eaten, and quite delicious too.
Moroccan mint tea & pastries
As someone who likes to try new restaurants, I seldom have desire to return to a restaurant. But the moment I stepped out of Pastilla, I kept thinking of returning. It is an unpretentious place to dine with group of friends or family. For food affordable and delicious, the fluorescent light can illuminate my pores to the world for all I care. Just pass me some concealer and BB cream, kam xia.
Rating: 3.367/5 stars
ps: Thanks Chef Said for the hospitality.
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.