On various occasions the route home from work for me and my partner takes us along (or more accurately, up) the Wells Road. At some point we would pass this shop front with varnished wood panelling, middle eastern style arches in the windows and in big bold white letters "Assilah - Moroccan Bistro" clearly visible as you pass. It always seemed busy and something about its quaint charm always prompted the odd remark along the lines of "We really should go in there one night". So on Wednesday night (22nd June) we arranged to meet up with friends and give the bistro a try.
Assilah prides itself on conveying as much of the Moroccan feel as possible from its name (based on the town Asilah, perhaps) and the decor as you enter. Wall are adorned with rugs, and musical instruments, including a selection Ouds and drums, as well as a multi-coloured assortment of sashes hanging from the ceiling. The seating area is equally varied and colourful with a choice of wooden benches and seats at a table or in the adjacent room, diners can sit more traditionally down low on moroccan poufs and cushions. Some of it might appear somewhat typical of what passes for authentic Moroccan rather than the real thing yet it is very pleasant as you enter. The only thing that was out of place was the music which sounded more liked a Spanish siesta than the more recognisable tones of the Berber.
The bistro allows you to bring your own drinks to accompany your meal so already there is a cost saving for the diner. The menu lacks variety with both starters and main course, each offering four dishes. I opted for the falafel starter and as someone of Persian origin having been with a raised with a father who cooks the best falafels in his sleep, it was inevitable that this would be heavily scrutinised. The starter was both a disappointment and a treat. I was served two falafels cut in half, some pita bread cut in quarters, a salad in the middle and dressed with hummus and a fruit chutney. The falafels were light, fluffy and full of flavour, but most importantly they were not dry. My only criticism was that there simply wasn't enough of them. The hummus had a slight watery consistency but nevertheless tasted great and combined with everything else on the plate all in all made for a tasty start, although even at £3.90 the portions seemed a little meagre.
Onto the main course and the option that stood out for yours truly was the dish that can only be described as quintessentially Moroccan; the tagine, and so I ordered the lamb tagine. Before you ask, yes the dish is cooked in the traditional manner using a tagine pot. I was presented with sizzling pot with a perfectly succulent lamb shank sitting on a bed of spicy potatoes lentils, peas and carrots all swimming in a fruity spicy sauce. The lamb was perfectly cooked and falling off the bone, whilst the combination of the fruitiness and spice flavours resulted in my taste buds doing a little happy dance in my mouth. The dish could not be faulted as everything was cooked to perfection and at £9.50 was, for me, the star of the table.
On the whole I was enjoyed my visit to Assilah as did everyone else. The food is well cooked, presented and reasonably priced. The starter was a little disappointing but did not let me down on flavour. Whilst I was happy with my dish I did notice some issues with some others. Other dishes were served with couscous and it seemed that there were disagreements about what was wrong with the flavour ranging from bland to a little too sweet. There was however far too much served, almost piled on the plate so much of it was left. I also noticed that with nearly every dish there was a generous serving of sultanas. I know that these form a staple of Moroccan cuisine however to feature them on every meal offered struck me as an attempt to scream authentic Moroccan. Nevertheless it was enjoyable experience and not only would I recommend a visit but I am already looking forward to my next visit.