“I’m feeling lucky.” If you’re looking for a table at the Moroccan Soup Bar on a Saturday night, keep repeating this to yourself. For a tiny venue that has no menu, no booze and no meat, competition for diner real estate is astoundingly fierce. Get there at six or be prepared to wait an hour. So what the devil is all the hoo-ha about?
Contrary to what the name suggests, this is not a bar, nor is soup the main event. This is a vegetarian Moroccan banquet, and for just $18 a head you get one hell of a bang for your buck.
Charismatic proprietor Hana Assafari has been successfully serving her North African cuisine here for over a decade, with minimal flair and no apologies. Treated more like a guest than a customer, you are greeted, informed of the menu, and fed whatever the kitchen has prepared. Simple. This lack of pandering is an affront to some, but in Assafari’s casual dining room, a napkin-flourishing song and dance would seem entirely out of place.
What the kitchen cook up, incidentally, is wonderful. Warm flatbread with a zesty hummus, some olives, and a rough-textured, cumin-rich cauliflower dip start the proceedings, along with a thimble of sweet, fresh mint tea. A succession of plates follows, each a testament to the versatility of vegetables, and the transformative nature of spices. Sticky pots of lentils and saffron rice provide your base, while soul-saving soups and vegetable tagines spiked with paprika, turmeric and ever-present lemon provide fragrant overtones.
The chickpea bake is famous. Just as scientists continually mock us for using only 10 per cent of our brain, Assafari reveals that we have been using a mere tenth of the chickpea’s potential. A texturally rich combination of toasted flatbread crisps and chickpeas bonded with ghee, tahini and almonds, this dish may just change your life.
This is a place for sharing, so take some friends, family or strangers if you must. Just make sure that you go.