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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Restaurant Review: Maroush, Crowne Plaza Hotel, Jakarta

Sept. 10 (Jakarta Globe) I shared a house in Cambridge, England, with a Moroccan couple for six months and my memories of that time are of sweet mint tea, made any time guests visited and served from a silver teapot in delicate glasses, the warm smell of exotic spices and the wonderful dishes the wife made in her tagine, so tender the meat fell from the bones.

So a visit to Maroush — the Moroccan and Middle Eastern restaurant in the Crowne Plaza Hotel — was eagerly anticipated.

Walking through the metal studded doors of the restaurant, one goes from the bright marble of the hotel’s lobby to a rich, warm Mid-Eastern decor, where the aroma of spices merges with the sweet smoke from burbling shisha pipes.

The restaurant can be sectioned off using draperies and dark wooden doors and also has two private rooms available for meetings, meals or parties. The green room seats eight in an elegant setting and the more sultry red room has a stunning hand-carved table that comfortably holds 14 seated diners. I chose a round table near an exterior window with a long sofa strewn with cushions and soft enough to sink into and want to stay.

My friend was joining me there and I’d arrived a little early, so I ordered Moroccan tea while I waited and found the sweet, mint-filled beverage as good as my housemates used to make.

When Nataya arrived, we opted to begin with a mixed mezze plate, to sample a few of the cold appetizers. The metal plate arrived with the dips garnished with boiled eggs and a cucumber and tomato salad, and accompanied by pita and Turkish lava bread. The selection included hummus, a spiced eggplant dip and a salad with char-grilled peppers — all good and I especially enjoyed the eggplant laced liberally with garlic, tomato and olive oil.

We followed the mezze with a hot appetizer from the many available, selecting the fresh tuna in filo pastry. The dish combined the tuna with onion, harissa and finely chopped capers, the flavor of which permeated the filling, in a feathery paper-thin golden pastry.

Nataya doesn’t like lamb so we chose chicken as our main dish, cooked in a tagine with lemon and olives.

As I expected, the chicken was wonderfully tender and the vegetable-laden stew rich and tasty, with the saltiness of the olives undercut by the acidity of the lemon.

Maroush is also a good option for those who don’t eat meat as the menu offers many vegetarian options, from appetizers to a full page of tempting main dishes.

We rounded off our meal with a selection of pastries, including baklava — layers of filo pastry surrounding chopped pistachios sweetened with a homemade honey syrup — and filo stuffed with almonds and cream.

The baklava was too sweet for me but enjoyed by Nataya, and I happily finished the less sweet filo choice, which came lightly dusted with cinnamon and icing sugar and served on a vanilla sauce.

Chef Abderrahim Touqo also custom makes Moroccan mini pastries, cookies and other sweets, which can be ordered in advance or bought at the restaurant’s new patisserie.

Maroush has an extensive wine selection and a champagne bar featuring bubbly by the bottle, glass or in cocktails.

The shisha lounge offers 10 flavors for those who enjoy the sweet smoke, and there is also a selection of well-priced cigars, from Cuba, the Dominican Islands and Indonesia.

And for a truly authentic experience, outside of Ramadan the restaurant also features belly dancing on Friday and Saturday nights.

I plan to enjoy that, and sample the lamb, on a subsequent visit.

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