“These are marinated kalamata olives,’’ says Simo Mohammad Nadhir, as his son Kristófer Karim sets down a little tagine of purple-black olives on the table. One could be fooled into thinking we’re in faraway Morocco after stepping into Kasbah Cafe. ‘’We want you to travel a little,” smiles Simo. “We are bringing Morocco to you.’’
And bring Morocco they do. The old Cafe Haiti has embraced an entirely new country and cuisine, and transformed into a little oasis. Chic without falling foul of cultural clichés, it’s a promising new dining spot based on looks alone.
A generous feast
When we visit, the restaurant is just over a week old, and hasn’t had a formal opening yet. Instead, they’ve gone the quiet route, with diners discovering the place by happenstance.
So what can one expect at Kasbah? “You can expect traditional Moroccan food. It is a diverse cuisine, and there is much to showcase,” says Simo. As if on cue, Kristófer brings in steaming bowls of harira and tagines of chakchouka salad—skinned, roasted peppers with their sweetness heightened by the delicate spices, and silky cumin-spiced braised aubergine.
“We do it with our fingers,” Simo demonstrates. “A little squeeze of lemon, a little salt to taste, and a pinch of cumin.” A perfectly delicious soup is now customised to our liking. “In Iceland, the food is usually seasoned, so the guests don’t have to do anything. But in Morocco, we always season to our liking—we want people to interact with the food.”
I have to admit, it feels strangely comforting to be able to salt my food as I want, without fear of upsetting the chef.
Sweet and Savoury
Moroccan cuisine is often mentioned under the blanket term of “Middle-Eastern cuisine.” But unlike Lebanese or Syrian food, it’s distinctive both with its use of delicate spices, in a sweet and savoury fashion, and the absence of hummus. The lines between pastry and meat often blur, and meat dishes are often finished with a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar, like the pastilla—a classic Moroccan dish of layered warka dough stuffed with meat, ground almonds, and sweet spices, then baked to a crisp. “We use a lot of spices, but it’s not spicy,” says Simo. “You can taste a little heat in some dishes, but it is not strong.’’
When piping hot briouat are placed in front of us, I can hardly hold myself back, burning my tongue on the crisp deep-fried cigars of minced meat. Simo’s pride at this house-made dish is apparent. “We couldn’t find the exact kind of ‘brik‘ pastry, so we made our own,” he beams.
Tradition vs Fusion
It’s clear this is a passion project for the family. “This has been in the works for 20 years,” Simo says. He and his wife, Harpa, hope that Kasbah will be more than just a cafe. ‘It’s an all-day place,” he says. “We want people to stay as long as they want.’’
With a revolving menu with day-special tagines, Moroccan wines and plans to introduce Moroccan breakfast, it might shape up to be that destination the owners envision. ”This is a traditional Morrocan cafe—no fusion, no mix. We think there is space for an authentic Morrocan restaurant in Rekjavík,” Simo sums up.
We certainly think so.
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