Walking into Cafe Maroc, I was immediately transported to a cliched version of Rick’s from Casablanca. Christmas lights were entwined through trees, vintage travel posters and glass lanterns all contributing to the relaxed, albeit slightly contrived, vibe. There are actually 3 restaurants housed in this location: 1) Cafe Maroc - open for lunch and is in the front; 2) The Sultan’s Tent in the back of the restaurant and open only for dinner (a $40 price-fix which includes a belly-dancing show) ; and 3) Berber, a club/lounge in the basement open only on Thursday-Saturday evenings.
Cafe Maroc has probably one of the best lunch-time deals I’ve come across with its ‘Morocco-licious’ menu: $15 which includes appetizer (choice of 3), main (choice of 5), plus dessert (choice of 2). From the ‘licious’ menu, we selected the Matfoul, the Maroc burger and the Moroccan Treats, and from the main menu we ordered the B’Stila ($10) and the mint tea ($6).
The first plate that came out was the Matfoul, described as “hand rolled ‘Moroccan Cigars’ – hot crispy pastry stuffed with mildly spiced beef, cashews and raisins, served with chipotle aioli”. The meat was delicately spiced and while I didn’t get any taste (or texture) from the cashews/raisins, I thought I detected caramelized onions. The aioli, while adding a bit of heat, was completely unnecessary to, and in fact detracted from, the dish.
We were then served the mint tea, brought out in a large pot and poured from arm’s reach, allowing the water to cool as it waterfalled into two small glasses. We were told that traditional Moroccan tea is highly sweetened (close to 12 teaspoons per pot), but they opt for a less-sweet tea with only 1-2 teaspoons per pot, which as someone who normally does not sweeten their tea, was the perfect amount.
The next dish, not part of the ‘licious’ menu, was the most disappointing. I had found the description intriguing: “A classic Moroccan pastry both savory and sweet, filled with chicken, eggs, almonds, caramelized onions and saffron, lightly sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon”. What we were actually served was a bland, mushy mess. Rather than almonds it seemed to have pistachios which gave the inside an odd, unappetizing green hue. The chicken was completely unseasoned and the bottom of the puff pastry seemed undercooked. I actually found a giant pat of uncooked butter mixed in with the other ingredients.
Luckily, the burger made up for the travesty of the previous dish. A combination of beef and lamb, it was thick and juicy and delicately spiced with hints of mint. Served with spiced fries and a side of the chipotle aioli (which paired nicely with the fries), this is an extremely filling plate of food, and if I wasn’t sharing it with a friend, would probably have taken home left-overs.
While the appetizers were served quickly, the main took a bit longer and we had to ask our server to hurry out the dessert, as it had already been about an hour since were seated and I needed to go back to work. For those who also need to keep to the one-hour-lunch, I would suggest letting them know in advance.
The Moroccan Treats consisted of 2 cookies and 2 slices of orange that had been sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. I had never tried that combination before and, as a lover of cinnamon, I will certainly be using that idea at home. The cookies were tasty (one was date-filled and the other had an almost imperceptible swipe of a fruit-jam) but not remarkable.
Given the excellent value of the licious menu, I would certainly return, albeit on a day when I had more than an hour for lunch.
The Sultan's Tent & Cafe Maroc
49 Front Street East, Toronto
Front Street between Church Street and Yonge Street
The views expressed above are the writer's alone and are not meant to represent a restaurant review or critique – rather, the article documents the writer's experience on a single occasion.