Restaurante Marhaba’s Moroccan Cuisine Paired With Spanish Wines!




I don’t subscribe to the view that beer is the best drink to accompany the variety of different flavours, herbs, aromas, spices etc that can be found in restaurants specialising in Ethnic Cuisine. Beer works, up to a point. It can cool down the mouth momentarily if you’re suffering from a chilli attack, and of course it washes down the food quite nicely, quenching thirst on the way.

But does it add anything to the dining experience? Does it enhance the overall flavour of the dishes? Well, no. In fact, I believe it actually has a slightly negative effect, dumbing down taste sensations, to the detriment of the dinner and of the restaurant as well.

It’s wine that you need to complement the cuisine. Wine, if carefully chosen, from a sympathetic list will improve the dining experience, immeasurably. (Here’s the rub though, unfortunately, as in my view there are many ethnic restaurants that have a wine list, sometimes wholly, or at best, mostly, unsuited to the the specialities of the house).

And from my recent experience presenting Spanish wines to accompany the delightful Moroccan cuisine at Moraira’s totally full Restaurante Marhaba, mine is not a voice in the wilderness!

The Atmospheric Moroccan Restaurant Marhaba

Marhaba was the first in the series of three such tastings, the second, which again is sold out, is about to occur a few days after my writing this article, and will be at Restaurante Bajul, with their exquisite Indonesian cuisine – watch this space! And the third, for which at the moment there are still places available, will be at the recently moved Restaurante Himalaya, whose Nepalese/Indian specialities may present me with the toughest challenge, though I’m confident I have it right!

The wines selected at Restaurante Marhaba were well-received by the diners, all of whom were interested to see if my choices complemented the generous menu designed by owner Nordin his staff. Well it must have been a successful partnership between wine and food as clients went home replete and happy, many asking where the wines might be available to buy retail, and to the delight of the Marhaba staff, many assured us that having discovered the restaurant for the first time – they’d be back!

In order to ‘gentle-in’ clients unused to Moroccan flavours, herbs and spices the first course was a salad, artistically designed and accompanied by Acantus Rosado 2011, the only house wine to be used this evening. Made mostly from Merlot this fruity style of rosado also has enough acidity to cut through the oil of a salad and add to the freshness of the flavours.

Our next wine, from the fine wine list, was a DO Rueda 100% Verdejo, TerraNova, chosen to accompany a filo pastry roll with a fish and prwan filling, and including a hint of Moroccan spice. The combination was a winner – sufficient refreshing acidity to match the filo and lovely, typical, Sauvignon-esque fruit with the added depth of vegetal notes too. It’s a super wine for aperitifs as well.

Of course Moroccan cuisine is famous for its Tagines and Couscous and Nordin had laid on three for us, each using a different meat, and of course differing spices and herbs producing delightful aromas and flavours.

Matching Moroccan Cuisine with Spanish Wines

A Beef Tagine with accompanying vegetables and couscous was served with Nodus, DO Utiel-Requena, actually in very handy 50 cl bottles. Syrah, that oh so fruity red variety, when grown in Spain, aided and abetted by a touch of Cabernet and Tempranillo, had the depth of flavour to match the beef and spices but also sufficient fruit content complement the slight sweetness in the dish. It has a little spice in its own right too!

The Chicken Tagine had to have a red with a fruity track record but with depth of flavour to last the course – tagines, for me, always have a lovely lingering taste, and the accompanying wine needs to have a similarly long finish. Look to Ribera del Duero for wines of this nature. Always rich and, when not aged for so long in wood, this had a matter of just 4 months in oak, it’s just right for this sort of cuisine. Caramimbre 2010, is fruit driven and a super drink anyway!

Finally for me there’s a certain symbiosis between Lamb and Rioja – hence, for the final dish of the evening a wonderfully flavoured (with lemon, apricot and prunes!) Lamb Tagine complemented the Lopez de Haro Crianza DOCa La Rioja wine, and vice-a-versa, of course!

We have to do this again sometime!