"It's not much but it's ours"

Thursday, March 30, 2006



About 10 years ago, almost exactly dated to the opening of MOMO just off Regent St, Morrocan food threatened to become fashionable. Unfeasibly dark restaurants populated by staff wearing Fez's sprang up all over London all offering Pastilla of this and Tagine of that.

Fortunately London came to its senses and this enjoyable North African food soon found itself back in its natural place in the hierachy of offerings in the world's capital.

Before all of this Kerfuffle, there was a place called Tagines on Dorset St in Marylebone. It was not hip. It never was. It did not have £1million spent on its decor, no noxious door policy and I am pretty certain that Madonna would not know where to find it let alone have her birthday party there.

Now Marylebone has become achingly fashionable itself. This is the very definition of twee middle class. It makes Borough Market look like Electric Avenue. It was always expensive, now it is expensive and annoying too

Q: What is the Marylebone version of playing chicken?

A: You stand on the pavement and shout "sophie" and try not to get run over by the yummy mummies pushing baby strollers.

With the opening of branches of The Ginger Pig, Fromagerie and its very own Farmer's Market, Marylebone has become a little foodie enclave and rapidly has its head disappearing up its own mews. Although, like Borough Market, you can make use of it, but need to get out of there as quickly as you damn well can. Thank God that they still have room for Daunt Books. Officially the best bookstore in London bar none. One of the great treasures of the capital.

But, as I said, before all of that was Tagines on Dorset st. Now called The Original Tagines because, I guess it has a sibling branch, I know not where.

Way back when, Hermano Primero and I would meet at The Rising Sun pub on the high st ( now turned into an entirely nasty bar called Dusk ) and sink a couple before heading around the corner to Tagine for a cheap meal. Tonight, meeting my dearest chum Jo who works at Auntie Beeb, I thought this may be a good opportunity to see if my fond recollections of it were justified or tinted with the rose effect of beer goggles. In truth, a bit of both.

My first mistake was to think that I could get from Islington to Marylebone by public transport without feeling like Charlton Heston in The Omega Man. I, of course, could not and, after twenty minutes of sitting sweating and fearful on what I believe is called a "bendy bus" I had to get off at Great Portland St and finish the rest of the journey on foot.

I arrived about 30 minutes early, so plonked myself at the bar of The Barley Mow pub next door to the restaurant and downed a couple of pints of London Pride. Nice beer. Shockingly lary crowd. Mind you, ten years ago, that would have been me.

When 7.30pm arrived, I popped next door and settled myself just as Jo arrived.

She was on soft drinks. Part because she is running the London Marathon soon and mainly because she had been at a conference the night before where senior people from the beeb had discussed matters of broadcasting import and not, I repeat not pissed large amounts of our licence money up the wall. So I stuck to that entirely horrid Effes beer while she drank Diet Coke.

We shared a few unappetisers! In fact, they were fine. Hummous, Aubergine and a broad bean salad. I am still here to tell the tale.

As the name of the place suggests they, shock horror, specialise in Tagine. I had a chicken with preserved lemon, Jo a lamb with prunes and almond. They seemed a lot smaller that I recall. Perhaps that too is a memory trick. Still, what there was I found to be very nice if a little crude looking. The preserved lemon and ginger with the chicken particularly worked well. The little I tasted of the lamb was good too. Served with cracked wheat and harrisa, there was just about enough to keep us going.

Neither of us felt we could order pudding as we swapped shamelessly inflated running war stories ( "and then I did 20 miles while running backwards, barefoot and blindfolded " etc etc,) so we settled for a shared pot of fresh mint tea before splitting a bill of £45 for two including tip.

The service was, as so much of it is in London now, all Eastern European and efficient if slightly churlish. We left about an hour and 45 mins after I arrived and Jo was kind enough to give me a lift back home.

Lovely to catch up with Jo, but I can't think of many reasons to go back to The Orginal Tagines it wasn't what it once was or what I remember it to be. Mind you, neither am I. In fact, I can't think of many reasons to go back to Marylebone at all. It just isn't my kind of place.

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