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    Jan 2014 · Kate Thomas

    The lunch menu is painted onto an artist's easel at Fondouk El Attarine, a stylish daytime restaurant and gallery space...

    The lunch menu is painted onto an artist’s easel at Fondouk El Attarine, a stylish daytime restaurant and gallery space hidden between the perfume stalls of Tunis’ medina. Look for the striking yellow doors about 500 metres to the left after the Grande Mosque; they open onto a courtyard that’s bathed in natural light, topped by a glass and straw roof.

    El Attarine (Arabic for ‘the perfume sellers’) manages to marry all the laid-back attributes of Tunis’ art scene with the quality of a top-end restaurant. You’ll be greeted by waiters in black tie and shown to a table swathed in crisp white cotton, but the vibe here is still arty and relaxed. The dining room sits on white and ochre stone and is framed by a green wrap-around balcony. It’s easy to see why painters swing by El Attarine to get inspired.

    The lunch menu (the restaurant doesn’t open for dinner) strikes a nice balance between European and Tunisian cuisine, for the equivalent of US 12. No Tunisian restaurant worth its couscous would forget the customary free appetizers; we were offered homemade brik – a local spring roll creation that’s filled with baked egg, lime and capers – served with a plate of spicy harissa and a basket of warm sesame-topped scones.

    Tunisian restaurants don’t always serve carbs and veggies with their mains, so its worth taking advantage of the first course; at El Attarine, that includes plates of artichoke salad and mini bowls of tagine. For main courses, there’s the couscous du jour, chicken with olives, and kabkabou – a filet of Tunisian-caught fish served in tomato sauce, olives and fine slices of sweet pepper. We tried the chicken with olives; it came in a lightly-spiced orange harissa sauce that tasted great in the mouth but admittedly didn’t look so good when it drizzled onto the perfect white tablecloth. After that, don’t miss the mahkouba – a devil of a dessert made up of buttery pastry, dates and nuts, dribbled with lashings of sweet honey. There are also mousses with pistachios and hazelnuts, and the refreshing grenade au fleur d’oranger; a cocktail glass of pomegranite seeds topped with dates and a lick of orange blossom.

    After lunch, it’s worth sticking around to wander the galleries and boutiques that fill the lower and upper floors of the space. They stock curated artisanal products like pretty bed throws, handbags and jewelry. You might catch a photo or art exhibition, run into local writers and photographers, or, if you’re in town on a Saturday morning, Tunisian historian Jamila BinousRatings: leads great tours (in French) of the medina, starting here at 9:45am.

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