Duck through archways and climb the sanded white steps to the top of Hammamet’s ancient medina ramparts, where Le Barberousse sits. It’s hands down the town’s finest restaurant, commanding views out over the Place des Martyrs, the old city and the salt-kissed spires beyond.
The waitstaff, who are courteous and speedy, brought over an appetizer of silken marinated sardine belly, freshly-caught and still tasting of the ocean. It came with a ramekin of olive tapenade, served with Tunisian brik that hit the right spot – easy on oil, heavy on flavor – and lightly-toasted bread.
For the first course, the shrimp marinated in Tunisian mint (US$10) was first class. A selection of fish carpaccios, sea urchin, rock fish soup and caramelized shrimp sped past our table, getting rave reviews from the table of British diners across the way.
For entrees (from US$15) we recommend sticking to seafood dishes; they are what Le Barberousse does best. Think home-cut pasta with tender giant shrimp, tagliatelle with octopus and artichoke or sole filet with lemon confit, spinach and onions. The tagliatelle with salmon and baby shrimp was served al dente, with a rich buttery sauce spiked with lemon juice. Great with a glass of local white wine; we liked the Jour et Nuit variety. Landlubbers might want to try the t-bone steak, the lamb couscous or the crown of lamb with herbs grown along the Tunisian coast.
If you grab a table by the window, you can just about see that famous coastline. It was there, the waiters will tell you, that Baba Arrouj, a famous admiral who stole the name ‘Barberousse’ or ‘Red Beard’ from a German emperor, surveyed his territory in the 15th century. Dining at Barberousse, you might not feel like a king or an emperor, but you’ll feel pretty damn good, especially when you see the dessert list, amusingly translated as ‘the softness’ on the English version of the menu. There’s bitter lemon mousse, creme brulee and something they like to call ‘sweet flowing chocolate.’
The atmosphere here is high-end but relaxed. The ceilings are as low as the prices, candles shimmer in glass jars and jasmine is draped over the beams. Compare that to Hammamet’s brash, package-touristy side, and you feel like you’ve uncovered a secret treasure. Plus, the waiters will hand you a stick of fragrant jasmine as you head out into the night. Unbeatable.