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Restaurant Review: 404, Marais Paris

69 Rue des Gravilliers, Paris 3e
0033 142 74 57 81
Cuisine: North African
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Natasha Blair: Against my better judgement as I am not used to eating the birds that spend time in my garden, I can now see why pigeon pastilla is so highly rated.
404, the Moroccan restaurant close to the Marais district of Paris is a sister to Momo and Sketch in London's West End, the former being a favourite of mine.
Having been invited to dine there my expectations were therefore high.
Smaller than its London equivalent, 45 people can dine although there is also an outside courtyard with further seating for when the weather is fine.
Based in what was once a sixteenth century private house, the decor is typical of its oriental origins with moody dim lighting, frette work decorated windows, and exposed stone walls. The open kitchen is incorporated into the main body of the room. A really nice touch for a more intimate dinner with friends is an elevated section in a corner of the room reached by a winding staircase, which accommodates up to ten people.
The food is typical of Moroccan food although their chef Baabouj Belkacem has been indulgent with some of the dishes, creating modern interpretations. Is it good to try lots of dishes from a menu or just enjoy a chosen few? In this case, I didn’t have a choice as the menu had already been selected. However as there were several of us it included a selection of starters and main courses so that I had the opportunity of tasting more dishes than I normally would have.
Our starters included wild pigeon pastilla,  one of the must-try specialities of the country, an oven-baked triangle of filo pastry filled with tender morsels of meat which had a slightly sweet flavour. Another triangle filo pastry, but this time deep fried was called a briouat, was filled with goat and feta cheese, and another less typical, was filled with saffron flavoured chicken. Accompanying this we had zaalouk, roasted aubergine and tomato cooked with garlic and cumin; and mechouia, garlic flavoured roasted peppers and tomatoes, both of which had their ingredients mixed together.
Against my better judgement as I am not used to eating the birds that spend time in my garden, I can now see why pigeon pastilla is so highly rated.
Background Moroccan music became noticeably louder as the evening wore on, and as the conversation got more animated there was a real buzz in the room without it being uncomfortably loud.
Guests kept disappearing behind a curtain and being curious I eventually went to investigate. The backdoor led to a large courtyard where the smokers were congregating. Tables were scattered around, and it was obvious that this would be a great place to eat when the weather allows.
In my experience, Moroccan main courses are usually a choice of couscous or tagine. We were served both. In North Africa, couscous, steamed cracked wheat is the traditional base for a broth made from a variety of root vegetables such as carrots, peppers, turnips and courgettes accompanied by chicken, lamb or fish. There are vegetarian versions too.  To give the dish a kick harissa, a spicy paste was served on the side together with sultanas and chickpeas, items often already included in the cooking. Spicy, hot merquez sausages, thin and dark in colour, were also offered as an accompaniment to the chicken. 404’s couscous contains lamb, chicken on skewers and spicy hot merguez sausages, made from beef and lamb.
Tagines, meat or fish baked in terracotta clay pots are often cooked with dried fruit such as apricots and prunes as well as an array of spices. If not cooked in, the dish is usually served on a terracotta flat plate with a matching conical shaped lid, one of the many things that I brought back from a previous Moroccan holiday and never used! The chicken tagine was unfortunately dry and not at all up to expectation. Fortunately the couscous was delicious and given the quantity of food and choice I didn’t go hungry.
Dessert was thankfully thin slices of blood red oranges with cinnamon and orange blossom flavoured water. Finishing a meal with something sweet is very much part of the Arab culture and we weren't disappointed. With the inevitable sweet mint tea, an unsweetened version was available too, a selection of small cakes made with almonds and honey finished off a hearty meal.
When in the courtyard, I noticed on the far side windows through which I could see the outline of people. It was only after I left that I discovered that 404 has another restaurant on the other side of the courtyard appropriately called Derriere which is French for behind, and which serves French food.
Altogether a great evening, somewhere to revisit particularly when the weather is warmer and I can sit in their courtyard, in what looks like a romantic setting, under the stars and eat a meal of my choice.
Natasha Blair was a guest of the Moroccan Tourist Board.
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11 March 2015
By: Natasha Blair
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