The Touareg are the principal inhabitants of the Saharan interior of North Africa and live a traditionally nomadic and pastoral lifestyle.
Their name is borrowed by this Moroccan restaurant in Southsea, and the owners have chosen typical dishes of the Arab Mediterranean.
They have certainly gone in for tent-like decor, with billowing material decorating the charming restaurant’s walls and ceilings. Rugs are also part of the subtle mix, as well as highly-coloured glass lanterns, beaten brass, musical instruments and wooden artefacts.
For those that love the shisha, there’s a garden smoking room with different-flavoured tobaccos.
The menu will be familiar to those who have latched on to the Arab Med, with the likes of hummus, tagines, koftas and falafas.
There’s lentil or Moroccan soup; grilled mergeuz sausage; jajeek (cucumber, yogurt and mint); falafel fattouch (salad with mint, sumac, cubes of bread and olive oil); tabbouleh and baba ganouch; and baked aubergine with sesame.
Continue with a grillade of chicken; lamb kofta (minced lamb, parsley and spices); a mixed grill; or the less Moroccan fast food burgers and wraps.
There’s also a vegetable or meat tagine, a rich dish which includes Kabsa, lamb shank, or a couscous with vegetables, chicken, mergeuz or lamb. Prices range from £2.30 to £12.95, with most mains around the £8 mark. Sticky baklava may suit the sweet-toothed.
The sumac, a fruit made into a purple powder with a lemony flavour, raised my fattouch to a lovely level. It’s a tasty, moreish and finely-chopped salad with lettuce, tomato, cucumber and peppers. This light palate-cleanser is a good choice before a filling tagine or couscous dish.
The Couscous Royal (£11.95) had the lot – cubes of lamb, mergeuz sausage, chicken and vegetables such as carrots and tomatoes. Served in a smart blue bowl with a separate tomato sauce, the dish was marred by cheap-as-chips chicken.
Both the lamb and chicken were overcooked, and the mergeuz was the best of the meat trio. The sauce added a bit of extra density but more spices would have helped it along to great heights.
A rough, blameless glass of red wine helped the dryness of the chicken and lamb, although the drinks list featured very few alcoholic drinks (some wine and beer) amongst the yogurt, soft drinks and mint teas.
The French and English-speaking Arab waitress (Morocco was, of course, French for 44 years until 1965) should give classes on how to run a front-of-house.
Her expertise is a joy to watch. She’s calm, polite yet personable, charming and effortlessly efficient.
She quietly managed all five occupied tables by herself, and the baseball-capped chef came out with a few plates for a larger group.
Touareg is a charming place to visit. However, the food does not quite reach the essential Arab highs to make it a destination place. Better quality sourcing and more emphasis on food spices, even with salt and pepper, would help it.
But, hopefully, you’ll be charmed, as I was, by the atmosphere and the superb service. My bill came to £20.89.
Touareg, 165 Elm Grove, Southsea, PO5 1LU, (023) 9273 0033, Open Mon-Thur 5am-11pm and Fri-Sun noon-11pm.
Disabled access: Fine
How to get there: Elm Grove is a continuation of Kings Road between King’s Terrace and Victoria Road South in Southsea. The retsurant is on the left, closer to Victoria Road South. Parking is on the street.
FOOD: Three stars (out of five)
SERVICE: Five stars
ATMOSPHERE: Four stars