Eat Up, Chill Out, Moroccan-Style
Lie back, relax and let the cuisine and atmosphere at Ketama satiate your senses.
By Jillian Ong
As our eyes slowly adjusted to the almost pitch-black interior, a large, bulbous tree-like structure appeared, looming ahead in the center of an otherwise small dining hall. Having already exchanged our shoes for soft cloth Arabian slippers, we padded our way through a sea of carpets, into the hollowed-out centerpiece and up through its interior, emerging on our own miniature private balcony. We reclined comfortably amongst the scattered rugs and cushions, surveying our surroundings through the pointy tips of our slippered feet with some bemusement.
To describe a setting as minimalist Moroccan might seem a contradiction in terms, but the owners of this new cafe have somehow managed to create a space that reflects the rich, lush elements of classical Arabic design while remaining stylish and tasteful. From the patterned silk-lined ceiling to the intricately carved wooden hexagonal tables inlaid with traditional brass and copper designs, it’s clear that careful attention has been paid to every last detail of the interior. Contemporary Middle Eastern music playing softly in the background and a faint aroma of incense add to the chilled-out atmosphere. The overall effect is modern, cozy and almost soporific, and it was with a touch of reluctance that we heaved ourselves into a more upright position to examine the menu.
In contrast to the decor, the cuisine is primarily modern European with a few North African influences. Cold appetizers range from a spinach and couscous salad (242 rubles) to terrine (292 rubles), while hot starters include chickpea soup (162 rubles), lamb bruschetta (234 rubles) and several different types of briwat (a popular street snack of deep-fried pastries with savory or sweet fillings). The green salad dressed with sesame oil (197 rubles) and chicken and spicy bean briwat (254 rubles) are both well-seasoned and flavorful yet delicate.
The mains are adventurous and include duck stuffed with shrimp (498 rubles), veal medallions (392 rubles) and salmon (386 rubles). While taking turns to hold the tiny penlight in order to see what we were eating, we shared a disappointingly tasteless chicken couscous (410 rubles). Fortunately, we had better luck with the chicken fillet (367 rubles), creatively stuffed with couscous and fig, and an excellent dish of tender lamb chops in a prune and caraway sauce (493 rubles). For dessert, we contemplated the baklava (199 rubles) or the intriguingly-named cheese pie Mohammed, but decided instead just to collapse back down onto the cushions and contentedly sip the fabulous mint tea (145 rubles).
Ketama’s laidback ambiance and extensive cocktail menu make it an ideal venue for afternoon, evening or even late-night drinks, while its refined decor and thankful lack of tawdry extras like belly dancers create an agreeable (albeit overly dim) dinner environment. All things considered, this new cafe will undoubtedly be a success with groups of friends and pairs of nuzzling lovers alike.