Tagine in De Waterkant: Middle Eastern Cuisine with Soul

Tagine in De Waterkant: Middle Eastern Cuisine with Soul

Home-from-home cooking in the city.

Anyone who has worked their way through a couple of recipes by the great Middle Eastern chef and food writer, Yotam Ottolenghi, will know the tremendous requirements involved in preparing the distinctively rich, flavoursome and varied cuisine of this region. It’s so steeped in culinary tradition that you often need complicated lists of exotic ingredients, plus a dexterous hand, a flair for spicing and – above all – a real love of coaxing wondrous aromas and delicious flavours from the freshest ingredients. The result? Food on the table that somehow always feels like it’s the heart and soul of a celebratory gathering.

Cape Town Restaurants: Tagine Seating

That’s the secret behind what comes out of the kitchen at Tagine, a low-key gem in a quiet part of De Waterkant – you taste passion in the food. This handsomely designed restaurant occupies a modern-industrial space textured in cheerful accents – it’s bright and light-filled, a soothing oasis done out in pale stone with Moroccan accents. It’s a chic space to kick back as you prepare to feast, either below a heater, tucked under a warm blanket on a cool night, or on the open terrace for a long, languid, breezy weekend brunch fuelled by bottomless mimosas. Not to mention being fully operational during load shedding hours as an extra bonus.

Cape Town Restaurants: Tagine Balcony Seating

Sharing is caring

A lot of the joy to be had from Middle Eastern dining is the sense of community around the table. As such, many of the dishes at Tagine are shareable and best enjoyed with time in hand, savoured like an adventure. Interchangeable plates are a highlight and part of a dining tradition that gets people talking, interacting, sharing… breaking bread (or in this case, squishy, fresh-from-the-oven pitas). It’s food that awakens the tastebuds while getting a buzz going around a table. You can build a tailormade feast, putting together a spread with bowls of homemade hummus (nutty, creamy, slightly tart), the most beautifully fresh dolmades, spiced olives, baba ghanoush, matbucha (a roasted tomato, aubergine and red pepper dish), tzatziki, and more.

Cape Town Restaurants: Tagine Food

Such shared starters are a perfect prelude to the selection of small plates, appropriately proportioned to enable you to try a variety of flavours, mixing and matching the sweet-and-savoury combination of honey dukkah halloumi, for example, with the frankly magnificent spiced cauliflower, a superlative cold vegetarian dish that delivers unexpectedly multidimensional, complex flavours, full of nuance. Or perhaps their tabbouleh, which might be described as a “cos lettuce taco” – ideal if you’re on a meat-free day and perfect if you wish to get your fingers involved.

Cape Town Restaurants: Tagine Tapas

When the waiter tells you the shakshouka is to die for, but you’ve already got your heart set on the arayes (pita filled with spiced lamb mince, lemon, tahini and parsley), and you know, too, that you have to have the Turkish gozleme (because, once upon a time in Istanbul, you became addicted to this spinach-and-feta-filled flatbread), you know you might be in trouble. The solution? Order them all. That’s what the small-plates sharing phenomenon is about: order them all and make a feast of it.

Lamb to die for

Cape Town Restaurants: Tagine Lamb Dish

Unavoidable, too, is the exquisiteness of Tagine’s various lamb offerings. The impeccable quality of locally raised meat combines with dazzling spicing to bring out flavours that you keep wanting to return – whether it’s for the traditional lamb kofta or the more innovative, slightly experimental “festive hummus” made with lamb mince. Something that’s striking about Tagine is the careful creation of a menu that pays tribute to tradition while simultaneously playing, updating, transforming and innovating to develop dishes that feel cutting edge and contemporary. If you’re wondering how something as simple as chicken wings can be given an upgrade, just try the za’atar-dusted ones served here.

Clever cocktails, easygoing vibe

Cape Town Restaurants: Tagine Cocktail

Adventuresome, too, are the innovative drinks that find inspiration in the spices and flavours of the Middle East. The terrace here may be a perfect brunch spot, but it’s equally conducive to settling in for a sunset-hour cocktail – perhaps a Bedoin Old Fashioned made with 12-year-old Dewar’s whisky, date syrup and bitters, or a Halva Pistachio that cleverly simulates that unmistakable halva flavour with tahini, dates and Canadian maple syrup ­– plus, of course, there’s a Bacardi 8 kick.

It’s not only about the beautiful food and carefully crafted cocktails, though, but an easy, unpretentious vibe created by the spirited team. Service is helpful, welcoming, accommodating and (most importantly) knowledgeable.

Towering tagines

Cape Town Restaurants: Tagine Guests

If daytime dining is comfortably relaxed, then evenings add an extra layer of slickness, a touch of pizzazz. Nights are when serving trolleys are brought to the table, turning the restaurant’s centerpiece tagines into a piece of delicious theatre. With all those flavours and juices sealed into a traditional earthenware maraq, when that tall tower-top lid is removed to reveal the hearty, spice-rich casserole that’s been simmering away in the kitchen for hours, you are instantly transported as the aromas take you to some faraway place. Apart from a choice of four hearty dinnertime tagines, also available are memorable breakfast tagines, lovely as a shared brunch option at weekends.

Ultimately, Tagine succeeds at being the kind of place you can return to again and again. Not only because these are flavours you can’t help craving, but because on top of beautiful food, you get gracious, attentive service in a slick, sophisticated setting – without breaking the bank. And that is something we need more of in Cape Town. A place where each return visit feels like coming home. Ottolenghi would be so proud. 

Good to know Tagine is fully operational during load shedding hours.
Opening times Tuesday – Friday, 11.30am – late
Saturday, 8am – late
Sunday, 8am – 3pm
Contact details 082 847 1030, info@nonamehg.com
Address 55 Prestwich Street, De Waterkant, Cape Town
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