Sunday, January 20, 2008
Tagine Moroccan Restaurant (at The Palms Hotel) Review
Have you ever noticed that you will never see a negative restaurant review in the local media? Why do you think that is? Are periodicals afraid that they will lose their advertising from these restaurants? Is it because they are afraid of lawsuits - which are actually only based on opinion stories? There is also no integrity when it comes to restaurant reviews in print media in Kuwait: The magazines/papers actually want the restaurants to know that the reporters are coming in advance (unlike in Europe and the US), so that they bring out their best (ergo the positive restaurant reviews). It is already biassed. How 'bout some honesty? I guess it is all up to bloggers.
I went with three friends to the new Tagine Restaurant in The Palms Hotel that has been advertised all over Kuwait. It has been fully booked, so I made reservations way in advance. We arrived early by Kuwait standards at 7:30, so the restaurant was relatively empty.
Perhaps because it was empty, we were treated to “the show”. There was a very nice, very pretty, very giggly hostess who seemed to be bored out of her mind. She was literally leaned over, with her upper body resting against the top of the host podium, with her eyes closed. This was in between personal calls to her boyfriend (in Arabic – which she probably didn’t think we could understand), “Where are you? At the diwaniya? I hear a woman’s voice! Is there a woman with you?” When she wasn’t busy with those two things, she was intent on listening to our conversation: We were going to ask her to join us at the table at one point after her endless staring. When male customers walked into the restaurant, she was very flirty, and giggly; several times running to find a waiter/colleague, so that she could relay what the men had said to her. Our conclusion was that she is young, inexperienced, and probably new to Kuwait judging by her enthusiasm at dealing with the male Kuwaiti population. (I was with Slapperella, The Romanian, and Ms. T; we are all pretty jaded when it comes to that, so we can easily spot a newbie.) Giggly Hostess was almost argumentative with the female patrons trying to get tables (but at least she got off the personal calls long enough to address them). If you want to get spanked over not making a reservation, Tagine is the place to be this week!
Since it is still in “soft opening” mode, Tagine only has a limited amount of menus (it actually costs more to print fewer copies, so WTF). We asked 4 times to see a menu after we were seated. Giggly Hostess was apologetic, but not much help. We shared a single menu for a long time before other patrons were finished looking at theirs and the menus were passed along to us.
They finally brought out salads (which come with all the meals), but they were served in very small dishes – not really enough for a party of 4. We ordered a seafood bastilla for an appetizer; very dry and disappointing; approximately 5” in diameter. The tagines come in 3 sizes of small, medium, and large. We ordered a large Tagine Marrakesh (lamb shanks with Moroccan spices) for 3 of us; Ms. T ordered a “Spring Chicken”. When the lamb arrived, it was not served in a tagine, but in a 15” tall clay water pot, brought out with a sheet of aluminum foil covering the opening (fancy!). The waiter had difficulty serving it and when we wanted more, we had to stand up at the table to reach the bottom. The lamb was a major disappointment; 2/3 fat to 1/3 actual meat. It was relatively bland even for Moroccan standards. The vegetable cous cous wasn’t anything exceptional either. The Spring Chicken was well past its prime and should probably have been called “December Chicken”; very dry and not very flavorful. We spent KD 54 on dinner for four and all agreed that neighborhood Indian take-out would have been better.
Our waiter wasn’t much better than the hostess. He departed the table when we were in mid-sentence speaking to him - several times. It became amusing after some time.
The décor is probably the best thing about the restaurant: gorgeous; typically Moroccan. The serving dishes were equally pretty in a blue and white design with matching table linens. Even Giggly Hostess wore a beautiful Moroccan kaftan (duraa) in blue and white. The restaurant also has an outstanding oud player with a wonderful voice, adding to the ambiance.
Tagine will definitely be a romantic dining experience -- if they can ever get their act together and perhaps take a stronger look at staff training, menu ingredients, and pricing: I would give it another six months. Don’t waste your money on the soft opening. It is a pity because the owners have obviously gone to a lot of trouble to create a beautiful atmosphere.
NOTE TO Tagine Restaurant Management: You might want to actually have COMMENTS CARDS available for a soft opening. It would have been helpful.