When Moroccan Spanish restaurant El Cantara burnt down after a kitchen fire, most restaurateurs would have walked away but instead owners Hamza Harrak and Sam Mallach ploughed a £1 million pounds into renovating the restaurant.
The three floors have been stylishly refurbished in a Moorish style. The entrance is lined with blue and white tiles imported from Spain. The walls are painted in a warm terracotta which is complemented in most rooms buy warm orange and red ceramics or fabrics in graphic Moroccan patterns. The back room features a tiled fountain that tinkles away in the background.
The upstairs terrace has been converted into a Shisha terrace with bench seating around the edge and a giant Moroccan lantern hanging overhead. It is the perfect place to wait for friends too arrive or to digest after your meal. Shisha flavours include mint, apple, strawberry and grape and can even be combined with vodka or Champagne for an extra buzz but if you are not into smoking, do enjoy one of El Cantara’s fabulous cocktails out here such as the El Cantrar Matrini that is infused with pomegranate juice and rose water.
The food is a fusion of Moroccan and Spanish cuisine. We started with some tapas of Jawaneh Meshwi, Chicken wings marinated with ginger and lemon (£4.95); Zaalouk, a roast aubergine dip (£4.95) served with pitta bread; and sweet potato croquetas (£4.75). Although the croquetas were a little dry, the chicken wings were full of flavour and the perfect appetiser.
We ordered a bottle of the Moroccan Guerrouane Rosé (£18), which was surprisingly good being light and a lot more elegant than I expected.
For main we decided to try both the Spanish and Moroccan cuisine. We ordered the Paella de Carne with chicken and spicy sausage (£13.90 pp, minimum of 2 people) and marinated lamb skewers with couscous (£14.50). The Paella was generous and bursting with taste and colour. The lamb was tender and well seasoned so it simply melted in the mouth though unfortunately the couscous lacked flavour.
We decided to end our meal with baklawa, a traditional Mediterranean pastry. A delightful mix of different types were brought to our table and the honeyed nutty bite sized pieces were moist and sticky, just as baklawa should be.
This is a great fun place to catch up with girlfriends being centrally located next door to Ronnie Scotts in Soho.
El Cantara – 45 Frith Street, Soho London, W1D 4SD – 020 7734 6868