ZAÏ ZAÏ – Mediterranean food to share in Plainpalais
by Chené Koscielny
Strolling through the backstreets of Plainpalais around lunchtime, as you do… we recently stumbled upon a hidden passageway – Passage de St Francois – where we discovered a charming restaurant called Zaï Zaï – after the lyrics of a Moroccan pop song, with an interesting Mediterranean menu.
The passage leads from the Rue de Carouge to the Church of the Parois of St Francis and is next to the historical villa Freundler with a tiny little park and allotments, where the restaurant owner often gets his fresh veggies from – you can’t get more local than that!
LOVED BY LOCALS – PLAINPALAIS
On the day of our visit the terrace is buzzing with locals from ‘the quartier’ chatting away and enjoying the final throes of summer.
The colourful inside of the restaurant is inviting with white marble tables, blue, yellow and orange tiled walls and Moroccan-style lanterns.
Restaurant owner Ouldammar Yassine, a ‘Genevois’ of Moroccan origin, has worked in the restaurant industry in Paris and Bali for 15 years, before returning to his hometown to open his own restaurant in March 2019.
He is the only waiter juggling around 10 tables during our visit and he’s not doing a bad job at all.
SHARING MEALS WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS
Ouldammar wants to recreate the typical Mediterranean experience of sharing meals with friends or neighbours in a warm and convivial atmosphere – without any frills.
Don’t expect gastronomy here, but hearty and healthy food.
The menu is an interesting mix of different Turkish, Greek, Lebanese and Moroccan cuisines without placing too much emphasis on any one specifically. The recipes are interpretations of traditional dishes you would expect to be served at your grandmother’s, aunt’s or neighbour’s home, says Ouldammar.
He likes to spice things up or add a twist, for example we tried the artichoke-infused humus, which soon will be replaced with the more seasonal sweet potato hummus in autumn. It was delicious.
The lunchtime menu offers a choice of a meat, seafood (CHF21) or vegetarian (CHF19) ‘discovery’ platters – and the option of one dish of the day the – the kefta – on the day we visit, which incidentally is the most popular dish on the menu, alongside the ceviche.
The kefta is beef seasoned with mint, paprika powder, parsley and creole spices.
What makes the kefta so tasty, according to Ouldammar, is the fact that it is grilled first and then roasted in the oven – sealing in the juices.
My partner tried the meat platter, which had some of the delcious kefta, chicken, couscous and veggies, while I opted for the vegetable platter – with artichoke-flavoured humus, fresh Moroccan salad, grilled aubergine and couscous. We shared the food with loads of homemade pita bread.
Sweet temptations include basel-flavoured strawberry tiramisu and paprika flavoured chocolate mousse!
If you’re in the area and looking for a quick bite or going to the nearby Comédie de Genève or Casino Theatre for a show or the Plainpalais flea market on a Wednesday or Saturday morning, this is a good place to share a hearty and tasty meal and a good natter before or after with family and friends.
It’s clearly liked by the locals and it’s refreshingly unpretentious for Geneva – offering good value and service with a smile.
NOTE: Our meal was paid for by the owner, but our views are our own and we won’t write about something we don’t enjoy.
Passage Saint-François, 4