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    Jan 2014 · Kate Thomas

    Dar El Jeld is Tunisia's culinary pride and glory, the country's answer to Eleven Madison Park in New York or...

    Dar El Jeld is Tunisia’s culinary pride and glory, the country’s answer to Eleven Madison Park in New York or Paris’ Le Meurice. And it’s not only the plates that are exquisite; everything about this formal Ottoman-style restaurant is worthy of gold stars, from the ambiance to the wine list. Anyone wanting to experience Tunisian cuisine at its finest won’t do better than Dar El Jeld.

    Housed in a spectacular former Ottoman dar (traditional medina home), El Jeld was transformed into a restaurant in 1987. The building is made up of one grand, balconied dining room and several smaller, more intimate banquet halls that branch out from the central hall. Eat here and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into an ancient Ottoman jewelry box, surrounded by the gentle trickle of gold leaf fountains, delicately carved stucco and thick oriental carpets. And the experience is enhanced by precise – though perhaps a little pompous – service that brings the old-fashioned values of the era to life.

    The chefs churn out refined dishes based on a deep knowledge of classical Tunisian and vintage Middle Eastern culinary technique. In addition to old favourites such as spicy chorba broth (soup with tiny balls of homemade pasta), delicate pastry brik and buttered Deglet Nour, there are such recent creations as homespun kabkhabou – seabream with tomato, lemon and capers – and a quintet of couscous varieties, including with beef, tender lamb, chickpeas and pine nuts. The selection of grilled dishes isn’t as imaginative, but the nevertheless the beef, lamb and vegetables are served lovingly on beautiful ceramic plates.

    In the evenings, Dar El Jeld charges a per head rate of around US70, which is comparatively high for Tunisia, so a dinner here feels a rather special and serious affair. Still, the waitstaff could smile a little more; we sensed they’d taken the formal, serious vibe a little too much to heart. But then Dar El Jeld is not run like other Tunisian restaurants. It is the only eatery in the country to deliberately have a female head chef and all-female kitchen staff. The waitstaff are the only men permitted to enter the kitchen.

    To find Dar El Jeld, head to the medina and push back the huge yellow door on Rue Dar El Jeld (yes, it’s so good that they named the street after it). Booking ahead is required on weekend evenings.

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