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Dar Belhadj – Tunis, Tunisia

Posted on Tuesday, 27th September 2011

It was hard to know what to expect of Tunis following the Arab Spring, but I found it to be a city oozing old-world charm. There was a dash of the European (the French influence) thrown in with the Arabic, and the locals were altogether friendly and welcoming. A good measure of nice hot weather also played a part in rounding of a lovely long weekend away.

So what are some of the places that you can visit in Tunis? A short, hop and a skip away on the local TGM train (about 30 minutes) takes you to Carthage. A posh neighbourhood with white-washed fanciful buildings and a view of the beautiful coastline, it plays home to dignitaries and Roman ruins which date back some 3,000 years. Interestingly, the deposed ex-president Ben Ali also had his home here, and it is possible to see the remains of his mansion which has now been ransacked by the people.

Then there is the more traditional stuff, like the ancient medina. It’s narrow and windy, and easy to get lost in. But with its clever design that allows it to stay cool during hot weather, it can offer much needed cool relief. Then there’s also the matter of the colourful wares and Tunisian goods on offer should you be in the mood to shop. And if not, it still offers the visitor a great taste of Tunisan culture as the medina has pride of place as the heart of Tunis.

Tunisian sweets found in the medina - filled with dates

Tunisian sweets found in the medina - filled with dates

Food wise, it was of course essential to try something typically Tunisian. I found myself at Dar Belhadj, an upscale restaurant situated right in the centre of the medina. Dar Belhadj may get mentions in the guide books, but with the number of Tunisians merrily dining away, you get the sense that the restaurant is an establishment that is well respected by the locals.

Dar Belhadj was once a 17th-century mansion and is decorated in a wonderfully sumptuous manner with beautiful traditional Tunisian mosaic tiles lining the walls. But here is where the grand European gestures come in – the tables are laid with white-linen and the maitre’d greats you in a suit and bow tie to give the restaurant a touch of the fine dining, Tunisian style.

The menu was a 5 course set menu with 3 mains for the choosing plus fruit and tea (55 Tunisian dinars, about £28). To start was a soup made with a tomato base and filled with yummy lamb meatballs. A pleasant soup, there was a hint of mint running through it.

Soup of the day

Soup of the day

Next was a house salad with tuna and egg, followed by brik diari. Brik is a traditional Tunisian snack made with a filo-like pastry, an egg and a filling of your choice. Here it contained lamb and was delicious, with the egg being runny and the pastry being light and crispy.

Brik

Brik

For my main I went for agneau à la vapeur, a traditional Tunisian course of steamed lamb which was nice and tender. A homely dish, it was accompanied by a side serving of rice mixed with grapes and nuts. There was also some stewed vegetables and crumbed mash potato balls.

Agneau à la vapeur

Agneau à la vapeur

The dessert was a Tunisian cream made with rose water and sprinkled with ground pistachio. The taste of rose water was quite strong, although the texture of the dessert was light and creamy without being too sweet.

Tunisian cream

Tunisian cream

The food was satisfying and enjoyable and cooked to a high standard. Dar Belhadj was a pleasant example of the hearty satisfying nature of Tunisian food. The service was efficient and friendly and there’s no ignoring how beautiful the setting at Dar Belhadj is.


Summary information

Food rating: 3.5/5
Service rating: 3.5/5

Price range: About £28 for the set menu. Excludes drinks and service.

Website: http://www.darbelhadj.net/

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