Is there any more satisfying piece of culinary theatre than the moment a tagine is delivered to your table and the lid removed with a flourish?
The sight of meltingly tender morsels mingling within the clay pot, before the blend of spicy and sweet aromas hits you, is an experience to savour.
For me, it beats any of the modern gastronomic flourishes, from foams to dry ice, and one of the greatest pleasures is knowing you’re participating in a tradition which has played out in kitchens and restaurants for centuries.
Brahim Koraichi, owner of the recently opened Cafe La Kasbah on Chesterfield Road, in Heeley, obviously appreciates the drama, choosing to do the honours himself with our lamb tagine.
It doesn’t disappoint, with the meat falling off the bone and great depth of flavour.
There’s a more homely feel to the dish than with many tagines I’ve tried before. The chunks of potato are an unexpected but welcome addition, soaking up the rich stew and adding a bit more body, and in place of the apricots I’d usually expect are plump, juicy prunes.
For me, a sprinkling of fresh herbs could have added an extra dimension, and I would have liked freshly baked flatbread in place of the fine but fairly ordinary hunks of bread we were given to mop up the juices.
We complemented the tagine, which at £14.99 for a decent sized portion for two is great value, with a couple of salads.
The Moroccan salad of tomatoes, red onions, roasted peppers, lettuce and olives was fresh and tasty.
But it was the Zaalouk salad which stood out, with perfectly roasted aubergine cooked in a garlic-laced puree and a splash of harissa thrown in to provide added kick.
The baklava didn’t disappoint, either, thanks to the generous portion of nuts and slathering of honey.
The cafe is part of a growing culinary scene at the bottom end of Chesterfield Road, near Lidl, joining the likes of Just Falafs, The Tramshed Kitchen and The Bhaji Shop, among other relatively new additions.
Pretty lantern-style lighting, patterned tiles and a smattering of Moroccan-inspired paintings lend the interior a homely feel, making up for what it lacks in kerb appeal.
That’s the idea, explains Brahim, who hails from the same small lakeside town a few hours from Marrakech as his chef and old friend Lhoucin Boubaghour, who followed him to Sheffield.
The cafe takes its name from the traditional fortified family homes in his native Morocco whose owners are famed for their hospitality – ‘if you ask for water, they offer you tea’, he says – and he wants to recreate that warm welcome in the colder climes of Sheffield, where he has lived since 2007.
The father-of-two worked as a tour guide and chef in his birth country and in Sheffield waited tables at The Mediterranean and Gusto restaurants before opening a hairdressers next door to his new cafe, which used to be a kitchen shop.
“I thought there was a gap in the market here for a good Moroccan restaurant serving traditional, authentic food like I would get back home,” he said.
“We want people in the area to get a true taste of Morocco, and hopefully there’s something here for everyone.”
Our bill came to £32.54 for two, including soft drinks.
Cafe La Kasbah, 115-117 Chesterfield Road.Tel: 0114 258 4007.