Moroccan magic in the Cathedral quarter
- Credit: Becky Alexander
On a rainy Friday evening, we escaped to St Albans’s latest opening, Al Farid on Holywell Hill. With colourful Moroccan lanterns all over the ceiling and a cosy, welcoming atmosphere, it was just the place to brighten an English autumn.
Al Farid (the name is inspired by the Arabic poet, Umar ibn ‘Al Farid’) is owned by Reza Habibi, who also has a restaurant in Exeter, which has been very popular for 20 years. St Albans has a very similar feel, especially in the Cathedral quarter, so was a good choice to recreate the success of the Exeter restaurant.
The interior is very different from the restaurant previously in this location – as you walk in you see a cosy area, filled with cushions and artworks, and there are two more dining areas either side of a new central bar, and a large upstairs space, ideal for groups.
Our table was very ornate, with inlaid wood marquetry, which I rather liked – not sure I’ve ever complimented a restaurant’s tables before! It’s a long menu, covering meze and main courses, with plenty of choices for vegetarian and vegans, as well as lots of lamb, as is usual for a Moroccan restaurant.
It was great to see so many interesting dishes that I haven’t seen locally before, such as teen, which are fig and goat’s cheese parcels, beetroot falafel and a seven-vegetable tagine.
We chose from the meze menu, as wanted to try lots of things, and at £33 for six choices (or £48 including a bottle of house wine), this makes it an easy option for groups. I loved the beetroot falafel – a beautiful colour inside, a subtle flavour, and super-fresh.
Babaganoush is a real favourite, so I had to have that too, and it was tender and full of flavour. Home-made fishcakes were also good, with delicate spicing.
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Steve enjoyed the Izmir kofta, lamb meatballs flavoured with cinnamon, and grilled Moroccan sausages. Tabbouleh was good, with plenty of herbs. I have had better flatbreads elsewhere, but that is the only negative. My glass of house red Merlot was decent (£5.25), and went very well with the food.
Tagines are a speciality, and the family next to us had ordered a range, including chicken with apricots and rose water, which they recommended. They also do a duck tagine, beef, prawn and squid, and lamb, with prices around £16-17. I am not sure how authentic some of those are, but they are clearly in demand. We had a lovely halva for pud. Rose tea, cardamom coffee and fresh mint tea are available too.
Lunch is great value, with two courses £11.95 (Monday to Saturday 12-4) and they have just released a Christmas menu, which I think will be hugely popular, with three courses for £30. I quite like the short menu – it includes mushroom pastilla, beetroot falafel, adas soup (lentil, chickpea and tomato) and fish cakes for starters, and four main courses, including seven vegetable tagine, duck tagine with Persian jewelled rice, lamb tagine and chicken skewers, so something for everyone.
Have a Kissed by Rose or a Moroccan Mo-Tea-To cocktail first, and that sounds like a good night out. Our bill came to just under £70 for two people.