Located on the busy street of Swanston Street, you'll be surprised of what lies beyond the stairs entrance. Sahara has three floors from the restaurant on the first, the bar with shisha on the second and the rooftop at third floor. The decor casts a magical feel with its warm tones, tagines plate on the wall and the shimmering lanterns. If you're lucky, you'll get to be seated next to the window overlooking the busy street. Even though it is located at the heart of the city, you'll soon forget that as you get immersed with the Moroccan ambience.
There's few changes with Sahara Kitchen from the manager and the Head Chef recently. With a new menu to boot, we are looking for a more wholesome Moroccan influence. I've got the chance to sit down and meet the new Head Chef Stephen Pilot. Hailed from Brighton, England, the story of how he became a chef and later ended up in Melbourne sounds like a fated story. Without knowing the actual reason, he wrote chef as his future occupation on his yearbook. Although his journey of becoming a chef is not a straight line, with interest in music and arts, he ended up in the kitchen during the economic downturn and the rest is history. Having worked in numerous restaurants with the last one being a heaf chef at a popular Mexican restaurant in Brighton, he was hit by travelling bug. He ended up in Melbourne with a one-way ticket after his last trip. You can tell that Stephen has a great passion for food and he also loves cooking for his friends out of his work (not many chefs do that!). To relish his creative side, he's came up with new menu for Sahara Kitchen with more traditional Moroccan food and flavours to the dishes. He's also into health and nutrition and the new menu will reflect that with more vegetarian options.
Stephen has managed to turn a popular dish such as calamari into a Moroccan flavour and the style. The batter has a subtle Moroccan spice. It is crispy on the outside and juicy as you bit into the calamari. The aioli served with the calamari complements the dish with the addition of Moroccan twist. I can easily eat the whole plate of calamari by myself!
If you don't eat tagine in a Moroccan restaurant, then you've definitely missed the point. Lamb is my favourite meat so it's not a surprise I ordered the lamb tagine from the numerous choices on the menu. It is not always easy to present a stew but Stephen did a good job with playing with the colour from the bright red pomenagrate to the dollop of mint yoghurt to the green parsley. We not only eat with our stomach but also our eyes. The helping is generous (Stephen loves to feed people!) and comes as a complete meal with the tagine and coucous tossed with toasted nuts. Stephen has enthusiastically explained to me the method of cooking in a tagine. Tagine is originally used in the dessert and it requires little water to cook because the domed or cone-shaped lid of the tagine pot traps steam and returns the condensed liquid to the pot. The result of this method of cooking is succulent and melt-in your mouth meat. The lamb tagine was tender and the fork just cut through the meat.
Sahara is a great place to hang out, from dining at the Sahara Kitchen, smoking shisha at the second level to enjoying the city view at the rooftop bar overlooking the city. It is a Moroccan oasis right in the middle of the city. With a new head chef in tow and a new menu, we can't wait to experience the shared dining experience at the upcoming FoodSocial Global Feast : M for Morocco this 29th of April 2017.
You're all invited!
By PhehSze (PS) Teh
Pheh Sze or more commonly known as PS, is the founder of FoodSocial. She's a part-time 'legal drug-dealer' (aka a pharmacist) but a full-time food lover entrepreneur and a philosopher at heart. When she's not in her white jacket or planning her next culinary journey, she loves to ponder about the meaning of life.