Pasha is the first authentic Moroccan restaurant in Singapore! Read about it in 8Days, and since I’m always up for adventure, trying new things, here we go! Hands up for those who don’t know where Morocco is? I thought it was some Mediterranean island! I was half-right, half-wrong, because Morocco is at north African, separated from Europe by Mediterranean Sea. So I suppose Moroccan food = African and Mediterranean cuisine. 2-in-1 but wait… If you know history, you’d know there are many Muslims in Morocco. Although (the handsome Malay manager told me) the food here is halal, prepared by a Muslim chef, the restaurant doesn’t have the halal certification because it serves alcohol. 3-in-1 restaurant! Let the fun begin.
The restaurant is very mysterious, and mystery=sexy. We read the website which said to enter from Aliwal Street. (Free parking after 5pm! Complimentary Valet services.)
But the entrance to the restaurant isn’t here. We had to walk through a dark alley, between two rows of shophouses to get there. Very superstar. Another entrance, we discovered later, is through The Sultan Hotel at Jalan Sultan.
We were bowled over by the luxurious decor of the restaurant. It was like a palace; everything was full of gold (my favorite color) with arabesque motifs. It was like we were transported to another place. The lighting was dim, as all good restaurants should be. You know what’s the true mark of a fine-dining restaurant? Padded-tables. Not just tables with cloth over them; but the tables themselves must be padded. This romantic restaurant is definitely a date place.
While we were waiting for our food, we went up to the rooftop bar to have a look:
There is even a little private room for two persons at the bar!
Ok, back to the food:
Starters: Cold Platter ($16) comes with spiced olives, four different dips, four different vegetables and flat bread. Vegetarian dish.
Hot platter ($16) consists spice chicken wings; lamb kebab; prawn; samosa-like; and a very unique turkey-and-cheese wrapped in wine leaves.
Of the two, my friend and I prefer the cold platter, which is surprising for me because I am a carnivore. I have to admit, at first, everything was sucky to me. After all, it was a new cuisine to me and it took some getting used to. But as I continued eating, the subtlety of the wonderful spices crept onto me and got hold of me. My tastebuds became sensitive to the different spices used in different dips and the food just got more and more interesting and complex as I ate more of it.
We had a sampling of mains: Djaj M’hammar ($25); Beef Kefta Tajine ($26) and couscous pasha ($28). Don’t ask me how to pronounce.
I need to tell a story of the Moroccan chef at this time. A customer, who is Moroccan, asked to see the Moroccan chef, and they started speaking in French. (Moroccans speak French.) The Moroccan customer praised him, “C’est superb.” Hey! I went to New York for my Ah Beng International Training and one of our tests was translation. So I know “superb” in French means “superb” in English ok??
Anyway, we took the opportunity to talk to the Moroccan Chef. I discovered in life that you’ve to take the initiative. Askers get everything. Nobody is just going to offer you what you want on a silver platter. So I asked him about Moroccan cuisine. What an education I got! Eating the cuisine, and understanding its culture. C’est superb!
Chef Said Ibahimi, a Moroccan, came to Singapore in 2002 but has been working in Italian restaurants until Pasha opens. He has just returned from his training in Paris last year. He told us that Moroccan cuisine is very much like Italian cuisine in the sense that recipes are handed down from generations to generations.
Chef Said Ibahimi said that Moroccans love sweet things, and recommended lamb with prunes and apricot ($27), but unfortunately we didn’t order it.
Another unique feature of Moroccan cuisine is the spices. But because the spices available in Singapore differ from the spices in Morocco, he has to roast the spices on his own, and mix them in a balance to get the flavor he wants.
For example, the Djaj M’hammar we ordered, roasted chicken in an olive-saffron sauce, is more complex than we thought. Saffron has a slightly bitter honey-like taste. I know, it’s a contradiction, but that’s what it tastes like. But the sauce is actually made up for 20 over spices! In Moroccan, they call it “ras el hanout“, meaning “top of the shop” or “all the best spices in a sauce.” And this recipe changes from families to families, chefs to chefs.
While I liked the tenderness of the chicken and how the “ras el hanout” soaked through the chicken, my dining partner liked the Beef Kefta Tajine or beef balls with egg in tomato-based sauce. The chef actually chopped up the meat to bits, not through a meat grinder. Because of that, the texture could be a little tough. I can see why my partner liked this better, because it’s closer to what we are familiar with, the meatball pasta, although this sauce is definitely lighter, less sweet, but with more spices.
We ate the dishes with couscous, a tiny grain that tasted like barley. The sauces and the dips from the cold platter went very well with couscous.
However, we didn’t like the couscous pasha, which is stewed lamb and vegetables over couscous, because the meat was tough for us. It did softened considerably when we drizzled it with the accompanying daal-like sauce.
Because we were already buddy-buddy with the chef, he arranged for us a dessert platter. We felt so special!! He said Moroccans love sweets–similar to Indians–but he transfers the taste of the sweets to cakes to suit Singaporeans’ taste. His most famous one is Slilous cake ($15). Sounds like a rapper’s name right? Yo, s’ lil ous! It is a layered cake with chocolate, date mousse and slilous (roasted nuts). He baked three over the weekend for birthdays (1.2kg for $55) so it was sold out.
However, he got us (1) ghriba bal ghargaa ($13), which is a walnut cake with (2) honey fig vanilla ice cream; and the original version, which is (3) walnut soft cookie, and (4) Bride’s fingers ($15).
Actually,given that the Chef told us that Moroccans like sweets, I was pleasantly surprised when I ate the desserts because they were not sweet as the Indian ones. The desserts had a pleasing mild sweetness, suitable for people who don’t like sweet things.
My partner’s favorite is the honey fig vanilla ice cream with raisins and nuts. Tell you a tip how to see if it’s good quality ice cream: it is soft but doesn’t melt easily. This one definitely was good quality. We took a gazillion photos and it wasn’t melting but was so soft on our palates. Again, I can see that the ice cream is more familiar to our tastebuds – but I refuse to pick a familiar one as my favorite! I’m adventurous and wild.
Actually, the desserts tasted very Grecian to me. Yes, I went to Greece for Ah Beng International Training too. I’m a highflying ah beng, so don’t mess with me, punk! The desserts are not what Singaporeans prefer, light Japanese cakes. But I like it that the restaurant provides an alternative to the light cakes. Diversity rocks!
The texture of the walnut cake tasted a lot like baklava, doughy and dense, while the walnut cookie was a soft, chewy kind. They both tasted exactly the same, with the same level of mild sweetness and a slight bitter aftertaste. The skillful chef is very successful in transferring the traditional sweet to cake!
Bride’s fingers is almost my favorite. It is an orange blossom flavored almond paste in crunchy pastry. It’s like eating perfume, so fragrant! I was intoxicated by the scent. The paste was dense, and had the texture of tau sar piah. But I think the downfall is that the roll was more chewy than crispy. Because of this, I think my favorite will be the walnut cookie.
The service was great. The handsome Malay manager came and joked with us, and asked after us. Our glasses were refilled. Napkins folded when we left the table.
Verdict: The ambience is fantastic, intimate and romantic. Definitely bringing my dates here. The food isn’t KFC. I mean, the taste of Moroccan food is very subtle, not like KFC in your face. Moroccan cuisine is like Indian food without the drama. It is very different from the food we know in Singapore. But once you get used to it, you can really appreciate the spices, the sophistication and the culture behind the food. This is a unique experience. Highly recommended if you want to try something new.
Rating: 3.457/5 bride’s fingers
ps: Please note that Pasha Restaurant is NOT the same management as Pasha Bistro at McCallum St. They don’t serve the same food.