It's Very Moorish: Dada * * *
Despite gloomy lighting, loud music and dodgy decor, Dada serves delicious and genuinely authentic Moroccan food, says Ernie Whalley
Petite chef is the Imelda Marcos of reviewing companions.
She was sporting a you-won't-believe-how-much-these-cost pair of pink heels. "Actually they're red," she said, tartly. "No, they're more coral. But they're okay coral." She dug the pun and we swung into Dada, a Moroccan restaurant on South William Street I'd previously run from having found the lighting too soft and the music too loud.
They had turned the music down a tad but the lighting remained the same. They might consider issuing small torches to assist diners to read the menu. It certainly has an atmosphere you could consider Moroccan if you'd read enough holiday brochures: ornate lamps, billowing curtains, arched doorways and a fair bit of shrubbery; when push comes to shove the decor misses out by a whisker on being kitsch. Tables were, according to your POV, spaced far enough apart to afford privacy or not close enough for earwigging.
The welcome was genuinely warm and our interest in the cuisine was clearly appreciated. Although "girlie nights" were advertised on the bill of fare, the way both proprietor and waiter enthused about the menu gave us hope that the food was taken seriously.
The small wine list held interest, not least in the descriptions. We were amused to read the house wine had "a bitter aftertaste". Bitter aftertastes not being our bag we went slightly up-list and ordered a bottle of Chateau Sahari, a Moroccan Cabernet/Merlot blend in which the fruit knitted together nicely. Spicy notes at the back end (a touch of Shiraz or over-baked Merlot?) pointed up our food well.
PC took the filo "cigar" stuffed with a blend of minced meat, pistachio and spices. The pistachio was clearly detectable. Herself had it in mind to steal the filo idea for her buffets. I had the stuffed (with minced lamb, cous cous and harissa) squid. The squid, small ones, were commendably tender. The harissa edge was definitely there, but not in quantities that would cause you to send for the fire brigade. When it came to mains we took the waiter's advice: "One of you must have the shoulder of lamb." I assented. The rest of the menu, on which there was a couple of vegetarian options, consisted largely of tagines. I could have been tempted by the intrigue of the "seven vegetable tagine". There were two lamb ones, one with apricots, walnuts, almonds and cinnamon, the other "spicy"; that's what Petite Chef had. Her lamb was cooked almost to the point of melting, but it had not lost flavour in the slow cooking. The sauce was rich and unctuous and laden with snappy green beans. The lamb that gave up its shoulder for my consumption was clearly related to the "Derby Tup" celebrated in folk song: "The flesh upon its back, sir, it reached up to the sky; the butcher went up in January and came down in July." It was a huge chunk of meat, cooked to absolute perfection and served with roasted potatoes plus an assortment of winter vegetables, including some fine crisp cabbage. Mention should also be made of a side order of merguez sausage, which came, as I suspected, from the shop in South Richmond Street owned by the excellent Abraham.
On to dessert, though we were getting stuffed. The rose water cheesecake was a proper baked one, but somehow they had kept the texture light-ish. The flavouring was pretty muted -- almost our only criticism. Our other choice was a selection of honey-laden pastries akin to baklava. We managed to eat a few before we subsided, groaning-full.
Our request for coffee brought the news that the espresso machine had gone tits up. "Never mind," said the smiley proprietor, "we'll make you some Moroccan coffee on the house." It was a variant on the Greeko-Turkish theme but much better as it was spiced to the hilt with cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and nutmeg, and flavoured with honey. "A sensuous hug" was how PC described it and, exchanging Tweets, I found that, 24 hours later, we're still drooling. I did more. I turfed through boxes in my office looking for the old battered ibrik (Turkish pot) that kept my caffeine craving at bay on many a hitch-hiking journey in my youth.
We thought Dada one well-serious restaurant -- confident and authentic (as far as we could tell) ethnic cooking. Every dish, every course, had something to commend it. There were fixed-pricers and early birds. Properly marketed Dada could do for Moroccan food what Rasam, Kinara and Jaipur have done for Indian.
Verdict: Fine cooking, great atmosphere. Service a bit erratic, but cheerful and friendly.
Dada, 45 South William Street, Dublin 2 Tel: 01 617 0777