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Review

Royal Couscous House

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316 Holloway Road
London N7
Telephone: 020 7700 2188

Cost per head: £20

Holloway Road is probably not the place you expect to find a good Morroccan restaurant - least of all one that doesn?t serve up kebabs while-you-wait. Luckily for local residents though, the Royal Couscous House is just that: a friendly, cheap and cheerful restaurant serving up traditional and tasty food.

From the outside, it looks very much like all other restaurants down the desolate street. But once past the door festooned with adoring reviews, you enter a long room with tables topped with oilcloth and walls covered in tacky tourist posters, carpets and (bizarrely) fake guns. The friendly and welcoming staff (made up of the owner/head chef and one other) will soon make you forget both the grey outside and the warbling music in the background.

The menu offers no real surprises, consisting of a selection of couscous and tagine dishes. But as many a chef will tell you, never judge a dish by its cover - a menu can hide many treasures. The starters are superb and include a magnificient aubergine dip (in which the aubergine has been cooked to concentrate the flavour) and smoked roasted peppers, grilled and marinated in herbs. The main courses offer a couscous or tagine to suit every taste. The tagines are particuarly good: classic, slowly cooked Moroccan dishes of meat, poultry, seafood or vegetables mixed with both sweet and savoury flavours - you could have one with prunes and sesame seeds (the Royal Tagine) or with preserved lemons (the Tafraout Tagine). The day?s special, a chicken tagine with tomatoes and spices came served with light and warm bread ?for which I was particularly grateful for once I tasted my first mouthful. For such an innocent dish, the tagine had quite a kick in it. I was left wondering what the hot dishes would entail. The more traditional couscous dish of chicken and vegetables, in a spicy tomatoey sauce, was easier on the senses. The couscous was light and well-cooked, giving this often maligned staple a new vitality. The couscous theme continues in the dessert section, with the choice of couscous cake. The couscous is cooked in butter, cinnammon and almonds. As is so often the case with North African desserts, it was incredibly sweet and best eaten with a fresh mint tea.

Though the restaurant is BYO, there is a sound winelist, with a choice of good, cheap Moroccan reds. So if you fancy a warming, hearty meal which won?t break the bank, head for Holloway.