March 09 2011
No offence to the locals, but you can have a tad too many tagines when visiting Morocco. At the start of a visit, the sight of the cone-shaped red clay pots that these slow-cooked stews are braised in sets the heart aflutter in anticipation, not just of the tagine but also the cornucopia of delights Morocco has to offer. By day five, although the wonders of Morocco continue to unfold, the prospect of yet more tender meat with aromatic vegetables and sauce is losing its attraction. Worse, in many rural areas tagine is all that is on the menu.
When I arrived at La Bergerie, a delightful pension in the spectacular Ouirgane Valley in the Atlas Mountains, I was well into a trip to Morocco and the previous day’s tagine was still fresh in the memory. Although built in a traditional Moroccan style, La Bergerie is run by a French couple and offers French as well as local cuisine. I was in dire need of a culinary change but my French-Moroccan companion assured me that Hassan Amoundi, the chef at La Bergerie, served “the best tagine in Morocco”. I agreed to try one.
I’m a great talker at dinner but this time I had little to say other than “Mmmmmm”, “Mmmmm” and “Mmmmmm”. Whether you choose a chicken, beef or, as in my case, lamb tagine, Amoundi cooks it with gorgeous ingredients from a selection including prunes, dates, nuts, quinces, raisins and olives and infuses each stew with a fantastic blend of spices. Lush, hearty, ad-hoc and made with lashings of love and national pride, the result tastes sublimely like true Moroccan home cooking at its finest. Mine was so good it ruined every other tagine for the rest of the trip.
The restaurant is attractive, with a wood-beamed ceiling and the tables arranged around the stone fireplace where the tagines are cooked. For food of this standard La Bergerie is ludicrously cheap, with a three-course set meal including salad starter and apple or orange tarte costing Dh130: about £10.
Anyone staying at Richard Branson’s exquisite nearby Kasbah Tamadot Hotel should do themselves a favour. Take a cab five miles down the hill to La Bergerie one night and sample Amoundi’s divine tagine.