Tagine genie

A bracing North Sea breeze finds Alastair Gilmour heading for the Med

One way to reach one of the region’s most acclaimed eating places is the nautical instruction into Hartlepool Marina. Vessels approaching from the North Sea are advised to fix a position from Hartlepool no2 channel buoy 272 degrees true. 

Hartlepool no2 channel buoy 272 degrees true. There are far easier ways to reach Krimo’s, a culinary institution around these parts, but as it sits proudly on the lock gates of the superb, 500-berth maritime facility, arriving by boat is an obvious option.

Krimo’s is Algerian-Mediterranean in style; it’s laid back, cultured and imperturbable. The man himself – Krimo Bouabda – has such a sunny disposition it’s easy to imagine his character has been absorbed by the restaurant’s tiled flooring, mosaics, embroidered wall hangings and varying hues of terracotta paintwork.

A window seat with a fine view of boats of all ship-shapes and sizes – working craft, leisure, pleasure and houseboats – is a further tranquilliser. A wind-whipped stroll around the one-and-a-half miles of Hartlepool Marina may seem thousands of miles away from the southern Mediterranean, its cuisine and the sophisticated flavours of a simmering tagine, but Krimo’s is as warm and seductive as this slowly-cooked stew.

Krimo Bouabda arrived in Hartlepool in 1977 to study naval architecture. But, back in his native Algeria, shopping for his mother before going to school left him with a love of cooking and fresh ingredients. So, opening a Mediterranean-style restaurant with his wife Karen – from Easington in Co Durham – was a dream come true.

“Karen and I opened the first Krimo’s at Seaton Carew on May 4 1985 with just £250 and bucketsful of enthusiasm,” he says. “It proved a runaway success from the first day.”

Krimo’s relocated from those Seaton Carew origins to Hartlepool Marina in 2000.

The couple and their son Adam also run a tapas bar, Casa del Mar, which opened in 2006 on the marina, and Portofino bistro-pizzeria. “The visitors’ book contains many more languages than we speak ourselves,” he says.  “I have had excellent conversations in French, Arabic, pidgin Italian, broken Greek, sailors’ Spanish and double Dutch.”

Here goes then with a whole new language. Boureks are a superb starter – spicy minced beef wrapped in filo pastry with a harissa mayonnaise. There’s also some coriander, garlic and parsley dancing around.

Harissa is a bitingly hot chili paste found in most North African food and if it’s not in the dish, it’s on the table. The heat has been turned down, but still has us reaching for another sip of Cameron’s Strongarm (when in Harlepool…).

Elsewhere, we spy Shetland mussels in a cream and white wine sauce, while next to that are lamb koftas with a tomato, red onion, chickpea and mint salad being shared with someone else’s baked goats’ cheese and slow-roasted tomatoes.

Although the vegetarian three-bean crispy cakes in a deep-fried tomato and coriander sauce had been tempting, the restaurateur’s recommendation made the mains choice easy (when in Krimo’s…).

Lamb tagine is braised lamb and meatballs in a spicy cumin sauce. The meat is beautifully tender and the addition of paprika and probably cayenne fire it up while the contrasting chickpeas add length and soak up some of the kick. More Strongarm is necessary, though.

The slow-moving water traffic has been a distraction between courses and we realise the restaurant is filling up with a lunchtime crowed. It’s mainly office escapees and groups of early-retireds, plus a teenager who admits to having skipped school when she overheard it’s where her parents were heading for lunch. Presumably mum will give her
a note.

Outside Krimo’s, the lock gates slide open and seawater suddenly erupts in an exciting, surging, bubbling maelstrom. Seagulls appear on cue, swooping down for small fish and tide-borne molluscs. But they’ll definitely go hungry if they’re waiting for scraps from this particular table.

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