Kasbah, a North African citadel, or “the old city” as Algerian owner Emir defines it, conjures up the warm winds of the Maghreb, the hospitality of the North African people and their cuisine. The blue-and-white colour scheme, cut-glass overhead lamps and patterned tiled floors provide the setting for “Mediterranean” food, so, besides couscous and tajines, the menu includes pastas, pizzas and Western mains.
A Pastilla (RM12) is a Moroccan pie of shredded chicken, almonds, honey and cinnamon, wrapped in filo pastry — loose-textured, fragrant, nutty, reminiscent of chicken floss, semi-savoury and semi-sweet, with more than a hint of the exotic in the spice mix. And the mixed appetiser platter of Kemia, (RM28) was no less exotic, with zaalouk (Moroccan: cooked, mashed, spiced aubergines) — more fragrant than baba ghanoush, and lovely on bread; mechoula (Tunisian: ground mixed grilled vegetables in olive oil and spices) — smooth, soothing, and flavourful, and a carrot salad fragrant with cumin and olives, served with triangles of kesra (Algerian: semolina bread) and regular bread.
The Harira soup (RM16) of shredded chicken, chickpeas and herbs was thin but warmly comforting — the sort of soup for cold, drizzly nights.
The Kasbah pizza (RM30, eight slices), from a wood-fired pizza oven occupying a not inconsiderable space, hijacks the Italian idea by adding merguez (North African sausage), zaalouk and cumin on a thin crust, tomato and Mozarella cheese pizza. The exotic ingredients weren’t distinctive enough to distinguish a too cheesy pizza, although pizza lovers should have no objections to the crusty, well-baked pie and the generous lashings of ingredients.
By contrast, the Royal Couscous (RM35), with chicken, lamb, merguez, aubergine, white radish and pumpkin on a bed of couscous, was a triumph, a warmly fragrant, flavourful invitation to well-rendered couscous with chunks of spiced, tender meat, accompanied by scoops of spiced sauce. And a Tajine — slow-cooked, smouldering with flavour, savoury, yet surprisingly perky Chicken Lemon-Confit, a tender chicken leg with potato, lemon-confit in a heady sauce of onions, olives, garlic and coriander.
Kasbah brings home the languid mood of the region, with fragrant spices and a variety of exotic dishes that are somehow comfortingly familiar. An open plan also means having to put up with the heat, humidity and noise from the road outside, but Emir plans to enclose the space in air-conditioned quiet so diners can enjoy an authentic North African meal.
Belgium’s best-known export, boy reporter Tintin and his motley crew, decorate one wall of Le P’tit Belge, which is rather petite, more bar than restaurant, serving a long list of Belgian craft beers for the beer connoisseur. A colourful outer sitting area merges into the cheery, café-like interior with the kitchen and bar occupying one side of the simple, unpretentious restaurant.
The food menu is noticeably smaller than the beer list, but it is Belgian, and is run by Philippe and Liz Durant.
Thus, Shrimp Croquettes (RM29) are hot and fresh, with crisp shells collapsing to fluffy, light insides with bits of shrimp, accompanied by tartare sauce. For the mains, Steamed Mussels take pride of place, in ½ or 1kg servings (RM39 to RM44 and RM58 to RM67 respectively) in various sauces. You can’t go wrong with the Original, served piping hot in a delicious onion, celery and herb sauce, with a side of fresh and hot fries. The Chilean mussels are small but fresh, tender and fleshy, with plenty of flavour — the standout offering of the restaurant.
The intriguing Belgian Pork Meatballs in Dark Beer Sauce (RM35) is accompanied by a small salad and potatoes mashed with carrots. The big meatballs, browned outside, are firm and tasty, the characterful dark beer sauce adding a forceful, strong binding element.
The portions are substantial, the proprietors are friendly if the place is not too busy, and the food is freshly prepared, with a home-cooking feel — solid and honest. Simple and unpretentious, the restaurant is a friendly place for an informal meal, and a small taste of Belgium.
Kasbah, 100, Lorong Maarof, Bangsar, KL. 03 2202 0206. Daily, 11am-11pm.
Le P’TIT Belge, E.01.03, Plaza Mont Kiara, No 2 Jalan Kiara, Mont Kiara, KL. 012 382 3128. Tue-Fri and Sun, 11.30am-2.30pm; Tue-Sun, 6.30-10.30pm.
This article first appeared on May 28, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.