Moroccan hospitality has arrived to charm the pants off the north shore set with opening of Afous at The Spit, an area better known for its skiffs and sail boats. Stepping through Afous's azure doors flanking a terracotta-tiled staircase and coloured glass lantern feels like a world away from Middle Harbour. But inside it's more modern and pared back than expected. Floor to ceiling windows showcase stunning views of Middle Head offset by dark wood tables and contemporary Moroccan touches. No hookahs here. But the hospitality is straight out of the 'kasbah'.
"It's an honour to have you as our guest," says proprietor Omar Majdi, of Surry Hills' Souk in the City, as he pours orange blossom water onto guests' palms to welcome them. It's a fragrant start to an evening of discovery and Omar is the perfect host for a magic carpet ride. He is the master of your evening's enjoyment, appearing discreetly to top up wine glasses, suggest a dish, and, when requested, share a tale or two about his Moroccan roots.
Meaning 'hand' in Berber, the dialect indigenous to North Africa, Afous has cuisine Moroccan in orientation. But there's no heavy-handed spicing; flavours are rich without being overpowering and are delicate in the right places. Chicken croquettes with caramelised leek ($7) are crispy on the outside and creamy inside. Served with a dollop of spicy ras el hanout mayo and offset by a sticky, sweet date jam, this is modern Moorish food made for sharing.
Die-hard tapas fans won't be disappointed either. Spiced brava potatoes ($5.90) are a delight; their crispness if offset by a tangy tomato sauce and spiced aioli. And garlic prawns ($13.90) arrive plump and juicy, swimming in a cast iron pot of unctuous garlicky goodness with Turkish bread to mop up the tasty dregs.
The slow-cooked beef cheeks ($24.90) deserve a look-in, at least Omar says so. And he's not wrong. Braised for five hours, they arrive so tender that a look alone might melt them. Paired with a refreshing zesty mint and coriander couscous and rich red wine juice, the flavours are so perfectly balanced they linger in your mind long after the meal. Fancy something more Spanish? The paella a banda ($27.90), a white seafood paella, is a salty, sticky saffrony rice concoction infused with baked prawn shells ground to a fine powder. A definite must.
If there's room left for dessert, don't hesitate to let Omar talk you into the deep-fried rose water milk ($10.90) or the dark chocolate souffle ($14.90). Just like Afous, they're sure to be charmers.