“Dishes that will introduce your sensory taste buds to lightly spiced and aromatic foods, and take you back to memorable flavours reminiscent of your travels”
In a city which, is well known as a foodie destination, yet sometimes feels there are more touristy cafes and restaurants than people who live here, where eateries pop up and disappear within a blink of an eye, it is wonderful to be in the know there are still a great many highly esteemed establishments that have stood the test of time. Last night we paid a visit to one of Brighton and Hove’s more time-honoured institutions who have been giving us seaside dwellers a taste of the exotic for over ten years, with the exquisite Arabian food and incredibly warm hospitality we experienced I am certain it will be around for many more years to come. Ladies and gentleman I give you.. A taste of Sahara.
At 5pm Friday evening we are one of the first of the evening diners to arrive at the colourful and vibrant restaurant. A warm welcome greets us from Sabri, our immensely charismatic host and proprietor of Sahara, who shows us to our seats in the main dining area which looks like it has come straight out of a story book or holiday brochure, with pierced Moroccan tin lanterns hanging from the ceiling, a heavy wooden spice rack, beautiful mirrors and traditional bowls adorning the walls, elegant cushions on the comfy seats and intricately tiled flooring all providing an extremely well-thought out air of authenticity that has obviously been created with the finest attention to the smallest of details. All this further enhanced by some heavenly scented incense burning away and traditional Arabian music playing in the background, we feel like we have stepped into a wormhole that has transported us back to our last holiday in Morocco.
The traditionally Arabic menu offers a wide range of soft drinks, but if you prefer a tipple with your meal they have a bring your own alcohol policy with no charge for corkage whilst providing dainty wine glasses and a handy cooler. The food menu boasts lots of familiar meze including hummus, baba ganoush, falafel and tabbouleh served with baskets of oven-baked flat bread, plus barbecued shish kebabs and authentic slow-cooked aromatic tagines. We really were spoilt for choice but after much deliberation we decided on a couple of meze plates to start us off – “Arayes with Halloumi,” a grilled Lebanese flatbread with halloumi and spices, and “Merguez Meshwi,” chargrilled spicy lamb sausages. For mains I go for their most popular dish, tagine lamb, and my wife opts to try their special fresh fish which today is whole sea-bass. Sabri congratulates us on our choices and confidently reassures my wife that he tells everyone who orders the fish that if they do not like it he will remove it from the bill, even if they finish it!
As we await our starters the restaurant begins to fill and before long the atmosphere is absolutely buzzing. I spot a group of people go downstairs and my curiosity gets the better of me so I follow to have a nose around and find a whole other huge dining area ideal for stag/hen parties or a small wedding, and tented booths for hookah pipes which I can see are immensely popular. At the rear of the room I spot a stunning garden area scattered with plants and decorated in intense blues and yellows reminiscent of the famous Yves Saint Laurent gardens in Marrakesh. I just love the painstaking attention to detail that has gone into creating this beautiful oasis in our town.
Our starters arrive as I return to the table and I am taken aback by the incredible intense aromas emanating from the generous portion of home-made sausages. They taste as good as they smell and have a wonderful crumbly texture that disintegrates in the mouth and releases all the flavours of the meat and fresh herbs and spices. We devour them in no time. The lebanese flat bread stuffed with halloumi is much more subtly seasoned to allow the marvellous fresh milky cheese to shine.
Onto our mains which arrive not long after our starter plates are cleared, and when our waiter lifts the lid off the traditional tagine clay pot I am once again blown away by the sublime smells that fill my nostrils. And the flavour was nothing short of spectacular. Slow cooking was certainly evident as the lamb melted away releasing the meats full flavour which went perfectly with the rich, intensely fragrant and colourful sauce that was further jazzed up with sticky prunes, olives and apricots. Whilst mopping up the last remnants of the sauce with the accompanying super light and fluffy Arabic bread I compliment Sabri on this incredible creation. he explains that he sources all his spices for the tagines from Tunisia and will often travel out there to stock up as nothing comes close, the fresh cumin especially making a huge mark adding to the depth of flavour. The Sea Bream is equally impressive, possibly the largest I have seen served in a restaurant, perfectly cooked so the tender flesh flakes with the slightest touch of the fork, subtly spiced so as the flavour of the fish is allowed to shine, and beautifully presented surrounded by citrus fruits, Arabic salad and a side of batata harra spicy sweet potatoes that had a wonderful chewy texture and packed a powerful punch. I could not resist constantly reaching over and stealing forkfuls whenever my wife was distracted.
Of course no dinner is complete without dessert and we made short work of our selections despite being full to the brim from our amazing meal. My wife’s cheesecake was velvety dense and creamy and impeccably partnered with a generous amount of fresh fruits and berries. I could not resist finishing off our experience by devouring a plate of homemade traditional baklava, sweet delicate morsels of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and soaked in natural syrup, in a variety of shapes and sizes that were all absolutely divine.
When it comes to warm welcome and friendly service then Sahara has it all. From the moment you walk through the door and are greeted like old friends through to the friendly and attentive waiting staff everything is focussed on making you feel relaxed so you can enjoy some truly magnificent authentic North African cuisine. With sharing meze dishes and a lively atmosphere this is the ideal venue for a special celebration. After ten incredibly successful years I think has earned its status as a Brighton institution and I cannot wait for our next visit.