As attractions in restaurant windows go, the huge grill at the front of Al Casbah takes some beating. The sight and smell of food cooking over a near-open fire is a guaranteed crowd-puller, and sure enough when we went for an early Wednesday evening meal it was at least half full, so it's probably worth booking a table in advance to avoid disappointment.
One man's taste of authentic Bedouin-style dining might be another's gimmick, but it certainly provides a talking point while you peruse the menu
of the narrow dining room, buzzing with activity as dishes are prepared, although tables closest to it might get a bit too smoky for some tastes.
The next thing you notice is the vast canvas overhead, designed to look as though the ceiling is tented. One man's taste of authentic Bedouin-style dining might be another's gimmick, but it certainly provides a talking point while you peruse the menu. This is dominated, understandably, by grilled meats of various enticing kinds, but also boasts a good selection of starters and vegetarian options.
In fact, our starter of mixed vegetarian mezze was not listed, but our waiter was more than happy to suggest it to satisfy the non-carnivorous amongst us. The large plate of tasters arrived swiftly accompanied by toasted pitta, and almost all conversation ceased as we got stuck in to the excellent selection. Smooth, garlicky hummus was well above average, and the classic combination of yoghurt, mint and cucumber, here under the name cacik, was fresh and zingy. Even better was the tabbouleh, nicely dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, and the dolma were perhaps the best available in the city: flavoursome rice wrapped in soft vine leaves, with none of that unpleasant aftertaste that so often mars inferior versions.
Main courses were mixed. While Checkchouka was described as being 'mixed peppers cooked in an onion and tomato sauce placed on baked aubergine', we couldn't find the aubergine! Nethertheless it came in a generous portion which swiftly disappeared as indication of our ravenous approval. Meanwhile the Couscous Royale may have delighted with its smoky, spicy merguez sausage, fresh from the grill but some of the other ingredients had not been tagine cooked so much as overcooked.
Indeed, this might be the moral of the story. Al Casbah is all about the grill, as should have been obvious to us before we got through the door, and it makes little sense to ignore this. The starters demonstrate that there is more than one string to their bow, but it is for the kebabs and sausages the we will return.