Updated: Mar 25
From the Grand Socco Square, the centre of the old way of life in Tangier, you climb up Kasbah Street, which says enough that it is located at its end. Lines of shops and small restaurants run along the street, and among them is the cafe and restaurant Café à l'Anglaise, rich in history. Many colonial powers ruled this city, but the British presence from 1661 to 1684 was somehow forgotten. Later, the British had a consul and about a hundred British settlers here, and the English telegraph remained. This telegraph was located in this place; it gave the name to the street and inspired the owners to name this restaurant. The peculiarities don't stop there. The somewhat forgotten dishes of Moroccan Jews are prepared in the small kitchen and the space that is an extended living room. In a combination of various influences on Moroccan cuisine, the hosts' hospitality, and historical significance, Café à l'Anglaise is the leader among the gastronomic spots of Tangier.
We sit at oriental oval tables and drink freshly made orange juice, making small talk with the waitress. Our gaze turns to the Moroccan interior filled with classic British memorabilia: from porcelain teaware to pictures of lords and kings who, thanks to who knows what merits, found a place on the restaurant's shelves named in their honor. The family collected objects from London to France to Morocco. All of these wrap in beautiful Moroccan tapestries and kitchen utensils. The art of designing is the work of Zhor Chatt, who opened this restaurant in 2012, two years after arriving in Tangier from Casablanca.
We talk to the owner and her daughter Badrea about their family's gastronomic heritage. The culinary flair was passed down from Zhora's grandmother and neighbors. At age three, she helped peel nuts in the company of the whole neighborhood. Her mother and aunts are known as excellent cooks in a large family, so those culinary genes remain in her. However, Zhor is, first and foremost, an artist, writer, and designer who deftly demonstrates her artistic abilities in the kitchen. Mixing all these influences is also a family legacy, as Moroccan, Spanish, French, and Jewish genes have found themselves in one place.
After coming of age, she went to France to study economics. However, the love for the smells and tastes of the old kitchen prevailed. Although she never worked professionally in a restaurant, she started her business inspired by gastronomic memories. Innate creativity further improved the recipes and rooted Zhor in the culinary family line. We hope they will find time to write down their memories and recipes in a book for future generations!
When the family bought the house, the first idea was to make a guest house. Badrea was in charge of marketing, and a tea shop soon opened. A meal for the family was also prepared in the same space, so the visitors, guided by the enticing aromas, started looking for a bite to eat with their tea. And this gastronomic adventure cannot leave anyone indifferent because they are in a place of unique flavours that can rarely be found on the gastronomic scene of Morocco.
Café à l'Anglaise is one of the few places to taste dafina, a traditional dish of Moroccan Jews, often prepared for Shabbat. This exciting dish consists of layers of red meat (usually beef) with potatoes, wheat grains, and chickpeas, seasoned with cumin and cinnamon and sweetened with dates. Long and slow cooking was often done in communal ovens, prepared overnight. Fortunately, right next to the restaurant is one such bakery, from whose wood-burning oven comes dafina for every authentic gourmet experience!
As a port city, the Tangier table is rich in fish, especially sardines. Moroccans like to cover sardine fillets with a rich layer of chermoula, a sauce of fresh spices and garlic, then rolled in flour and fried in oil. Many forms of chermoula are known throughout the Maghreb, but the preparation and baking at Café à l'Anglaise are original, so sardine lovers ask for a place here in advance. Homemade pastilla is also made, known throughout Morocco.
Few people make homemade pastilla prepared from organic ingredients from the local market. There is no trace of sugar, only honey is used, which is the natural and old-fashioned way of preparation, exactly as Zhor's grandmother used to do.
A special dish designed by Zhor is beef tajine with eggplant. The design of this dish is unique, and as eggplant lovers, we are also treated with a traditional eggplant dip, originally prepared in Fes. An old Arab saying tells that dreaming of three eggplants means good luck, and the same can be said in Berber-majority Morocco. As if created ideally for vegetarians, eggplant, garlic, carrots, kosher spices, and olive oil are combined in a spicy sauce that warms the palate with freshly baked bread and should be cooled with Moroccan mint tea. The favourite drink of Moroccans is less sweetened and gives more mint flavour, which is another of the strengths of Café à l'Anglaise.
Next, we have samosas filled with ground beef, cumin, and parsley, sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon. The surprising combination delights because the rich and heavy beef perfectly combines with the sweet flavours in a harmonious dish that can be eaten as a main course and an appetizer. And maybe as a dessert!
Kind hands of Mrs Zhor made us another dessert, a lovely bowl of fresh ans sweet strawberries with elderflower! The concept of the restaurant rests entirely upon the feeling of home. The menu exists as a guide, but three to four dishes are prepared daily, from breakfast to dinner. After one preparation, there is no new cooking, except by announcement. In this way, they achieve freshness and a feeling of home. The bar smells of fresh fruit and mint, so juices and tea arrive immediately.
On the upper floor, there is a Moroccan salon for larger groups, while a couple of blue tables on the street terrace remind us that Tangier is also called the blue city. All this is very attractive to tourists and their mobile phones, who often regret not being hungry enough to taste the culinary specialties. If only they knew the whole story...!
For those who truly would like to find a culinary jewel, this place cannot be missed. Every gastronomic nomad looking for culinary specialties will find a suitable place in Café à l'Anglaise, which combines an unusual harmony of artists, gastronomy, the international spirit of Tangier, and a traditional Moroccan welcome.
Café à l'Anglaise
37 Rue de la Kasbah, Tangier, Morocco
Photos by: Vedran Obućina & Mehdi El-Ammary