Aged just six years old, the mighty Casablanca Sandwicherie is already the granddaddy of foreign-owned food places in Haebangchon, the purveyors of the best sandwiches in Korea, and one of our little favela’s best-loved institutions. (If you haven’t been there yet, stop reading this and just go; it’ll soon become one of your favourite places in the city. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.)
[Note: No money, free food or other inducement was asked for or received in return for this post. Soju Sunrise accepts freebies only very occasionally and will always explicitly state if this is the case.]
Despite its gradual, incremental expansion down the years – it’s a little larger than it used to be, opens earlier these days, has a larger menu than when it opened – Casablanca owner Wahid Naciri has always focused the menu tightly on sandwiches and shakshukas, everything under man won and suitable for a quick lunch. It’s a concept that has always had room for expansion, and that’s now come to fruition with the opening last week of Morococo Café, just across the street from their flagship sandwich shop.
Be in no doubt, though, that this is not just an expansion area for Casablanca to seat a few more customers. They’ve done a terrific job of differentiating this space and creating a cafe/restaurant that has an ambience and identity all its own. It’s a small place, to be sure – a handful of tables and seating for no more than 12-15 people at most – but a warm and welcoming one. Wahid (above) is one of these guys who knows everyone in his neighbourhood, but even on your first visit he’ll greet you like an old friend.
Morococo is still in soft opening and for the time being the menu comprises of just three food items. Just as well they’re all excellent.
The chermoula carrot, caramelised plum and toasted almond salad (above) is a riot of colour, flavour and texture. This is the sort of salad I can get on board with, and anyone who knows me knows that I don’t often praise salads. I’d love to box this up and take it home to serve with a lamb chop, but even on its own it’s unusual and interesting enough to be a must-order.
Next up is a chicken tagine (above), cooked with preserved lemon and olives. You get a pretty decent-sized chicken leg and it’s well worth getting some bread or rice to soak up the tangy, slightly citrussy cooking sauce.
Don’t neglect the preserved lemon peel – it goes great with the chicken.
The third menu item is a lamb kofta tagine spiced with ras el hanout (above). Aficionados of Casablanca’s shakshuka will see lots of the same DNA in this dish, right down to the bubbling egg cracked into the middle of the thick tomato-based sauce, though the spicing is subtly different. I’ve now had this on three separate occasions and it’s getting better as time goes on.
You have a choice of spiced rice, studded with the occasional clove and shard of bay leaf, or some sliced baguette to soak up the sauces. I’d recommend one of both, frankly.
Apart from the savoury dishes, you can get tea and coffee – the former served in these lovely silver teapots, the latter available in a couple of different varieties, including a spicy Moroccan take on a latte – and a terrific cheesecake which lovers of Braai Republic’s original Amarula cheesecake may appreciate. (I should note that Morococo Café kindly gave me a piece on the house after I wrote something nice about them on Facebook, but even at full price (6,000) it’s well worth it – gorgeous.)
Boozehounds like me will be pleased to see the Brooklyn beers and there’s a generous pour of some pretty good South African wine for just 5,000 a glass. Here’s looking at you, kid.
It’s the sort of place where you’d happily sit and chat for a hour or so in the afternoon, and after dark it takes on an atmosphere all its own, the lightshades throwing patterned shadows across the walls and low-key music in the background. It’s also when they tend to get busiest, so plan accordingly.
All told, Morococo Café is exactly the sort of place that makes a neighbourhood like HBC different and special. They’re still in their infancy, so you can expect the menu to grow and adapt as they go along. The owners plan to introduce a couple more items in the near future, including another vegetable option and perhaps a fish tagine as well, and later down the line there may be couscous as well.
It’s probably the place to go for a light meal with a friend rather than a big group blow-out, and big eaters like me may find themselves still peckish after ordering just one dish. That said, I look forward to seeing where they go with this and I’ll certainly be a regular visitor, not least because it’s a couple of minutes from my front door.
I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
- Category: Moroccan / Café
- Price: $$$$
- Must try: Lamb kofta tagine
- Subway: Noksapyeong Station (녹사평역) exit 2
- Directions: To get to Haebangchon, walk up from Noksapyeong Station exit 2 with the US base on your left hand side. When you see the kimchi pots, keep walking up the road to the left. You’ll find Morococo Café about five minutes up the street on the right, opposite the original Casablanca Sandwicherie. (If you hit the CU Mart, you’ve walked too far.)
- Hours: Morococo Café is open six days a week except Mondays. They are currently open from 5pm until 10pm or so, and all day from lunchtime on the weekends. You can expect longer opening times as they establish themselves. You can also check out their Facebook page.
- The Soju Sunrise Interview: Wahid Naciri | soju sunrise - […] in Haebangchon – the long-established Casablanca Sandwicherie and the newly opened Morococo Café – serving a mixture of spicy…