Casbah – literally translates to “Castle” or “Palace”, a contemporary Arabesque lounge opened its plush doors in Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur last December. As the name suggests, I was struck by the opulent decor when I took the flight of steps down and entered an exotic cavern-like lounge. The soft orangey lightings, the deep comfy sofas, intricate carved wall plaques together with the Arabian rythms being played – all these added on to the feeling that I was half-expecting a harem of exotic belly-dancers to sashay from the glittery brocade drapes. Almost a scene from Arabian Nights, albeit a modern one. Complementing the adjacent Sultan Lounge, Casbah serves an extensive menu featuring mezze and tapas from the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa and Spain.
Thanks to the kind invitation of Ms Cheryl Lum (Director of Communications, Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur), I had the opportunity to sample some of Casbah’s offerings.
What better way to start off a meal here than to partake in their array of Greek and Mezzeh Dips consisting of tzatziki (tangy creamy cucumber), taramasalata (made from salted fish roe), htipiti (made from roasted red peppers and feta cheese), hummus, babaganough (made from grilled eggplant) and labneh (creamed yoghurt cheese) served with a basket of Arabian breads.
Oh yes, I was totally flabbergasted with the variety of dips – all of them went very well with the assorted breads served.
The mezze and tapas items were served next… starting with Samboussek which were pastries filled with Shanklish cheese – a godsend for cheese lovers, I tell you! They looked pretty much like fried wantons but the creamy cheese filling would leave you in no doubt that this is indeed a Middle Eastern delicacy.
Another great dish for cheese-lovers… the Spanakopita … with its layered filo pastry encasing mashed spinach and feta cheese…
I preferred the Manti Pasta with Chicken … a bit similar to the Samboussek but had fillings of chicken flavoured with sumac and paprika and drizzled with garlic yoghurt – really yummy stuff.
Another favourite is the Lamb Arayes… grilled crispy pita filled with minced lamb and tahini (a fragrant sesame paste)… those triangular pancake-like pita disappeared very fast!
More meats made their way to our table… the Shish Taouk – Arabian Chicken Skewers with Lemon & Pickles…
… and Albondigas – Beefballs with Manchego (Spanish cheese made from the Manchega sheep’s milk) stewed in peperonata. I love the earthy rustic peperonata sauce which had all the flavours of peppers, tomatoes, onions and garlic superbly fused together – perfect for the meaty balls.
From the vegetarian section of the menu, I loved the Tabouleh and Stirato Bread with Tomatoes. The former was a combined salad of parsley, bulgur wheat, chopped tomatoes, onions, mint served on lettuce leaves and a dash of lemon dressing – so refreshing! The Stirato Bread was actually grilled rosemary bread served with a topping of fresh tomatoes, garlice and olive oil – gorgeous in its simplicity.
From the seafood selection, we had the Salmon Poached in Lebanese Olive Oil served on smoked eggplant puree accompanied by dill potatoes. To me, salmon should be eaten either raw or smoked, so when it’s poached, much of its flavour was lost rendering it flaky and kinda bland. The dill potatoes fared much better in this dish
One of my favourites was the Boquerones – simple marinated anchovies with garlic and olive oil served on toasted squares of bread.
I’m easy to please that way – sometimes all I need is just my anchovy and my bread
Next came the typical Morrocan dish – Tagine. Casbah’s version of this had cous cous, lamb sausages, almonds and dried apricots in it. Although it didn’t come with the traditional tagine pot with a conical or dome-shaped cover, the red glazed clay pot it came in was a suitable replacement, I guess. The medley of spice seasonings had totally infused with the meats resulting in this dish which was so smokily aromatic, it tantalised the tastebuds even before eating it!
The authenticity of this tagine is not questioned – not when Casbah is helmed by Chef Mustapha Benhadou who hails from Morocco. The charming friendly Chef sat and chatted with us as the meal progressed. It’s not surprising to note that Chef Mustapha’s style in the menu he innovated is anchored on simplicity – using unique fresh ingredients to create exquisite culinary offerings stemming from enthusiastic creativity and masterful skills. Didn’t I mention earlier that my favourites were actually all the simple stuff
What’s a Mediterranean meal withouth Desserts, right? Casbah did not disappoint… we had our fill of the sweets…starting with the iconic Baklava… layers of sweet pastry with fillings of chopped nuts, dried fruits and spices. I found this a tad too sweet though.
Turrons – Spanish nougats! This was the soft chewy version… made from almonds, honey, eggwhites and topped with toasted nuts. Again it was was a little bit too sweet for me – maybe I just have a low-sweet palate.
Crema Catalana – caramelized creamy custard. This was not as silkily smooth as the usual creme brulee – it had a slight sandy texture but I liked it as it gave a bit of “bite” and went very well with the caramel. To me, this had just the right amount of sweetness.
Churros Con Chocolate – traditional fried dough sticks dipped in hot spiced chocolate… a bit like our local “yau cha koay”… so if you like dipping that in hot chocolate sauce, then this one’s for you
Casbah is an ideal place to enjoy an informal soiree, to socialise or just to hang-out with friends. Food is served until midnight, so it’s an excellent place to adjourn to, if you’re feeling hungry after a night out partying!
Prices for the dishes ranged from RM12-25 for the Vegetarian items; RM15-39 for Meats; RM28-35 for Seafood; RM45 & above for Large Plates and RM12-18 for Desserts.
Casbah @ Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur City Centre