I looked up from the table and over at a certain someone. He had done the same thing as me: knife and fork down, paper napkin placed politely over his plate, hand reached out for another piece of bread. Even without words, I knew exactly what he was thinking as those same thoughts were bouncing around my head too. I’m not sure I can finish the rest of it, I still hate cumin, and whose bright idea was it to come to Morocco?
That was the first tagine we ate at the start of our visit to Morocco and it was such a disaster, it almost became our last. Where were the intense spices and aromas which were supposed to assault our senses? Not in the bowl in front of us, that we were certain. A friend with Moroccan heritage had warned me that the best food was probably served in people’s homes as the country doesn’t traditionally have a huge dining out culture, so maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised by our shaky start.
Our first impressions of Moroccan cuisine weren’t great, but with nearly two more weeks of eating ahead, we were determined to work a little harder to find restaurants serving dishes which were more authentic than the tourist-focused slop in the main drags. We managed to unearth some gems in Fez, Rabat, and Essaouira and find dishes like harira and streetside grills, which made us rather happy and raised our opinion of Moroccan cuisine. By the time we arrived in Marrakech, our last stop, we were even ready to brave another tagine…
Al Fassia – Tagine Done Right
We almost didn’t make it to Al Fassia because I can’t be trusted with the map or directions, and it’s at the end of an arcade off a street which restaurants had no business being near. But in spite of the blistering afternoon heat, we persevered and were rewarded with entry into a calm, elegant dining room complete with cushy seats and crisp tablecloths. Al Fassia was recommended to us by our riad in Fez as they’re owned by the same people, but it’s extremely well-known for two things – its all female staff both in and out of the kitchen and the a la carte menu instead of the more common set menu.
The only downside I found with the menu is that it’s large; so many variations of tagine and couscous might be exciting for some, but it was daunting for me. We kept the ordering simple with the mixed kebab of chicken, lamb, and beef mince, and the beef tagine with caramelised onions and tomatoes. The tagine was a particular highlight as we finally enjoyed a richly spiced and well balanced between sweet and savoury rendition of the dish which was worth the detour for.
Cafe Clock – Casual in the Kasbah
There was only one reason we came to Cafe Clock: the camel burger. After facing several camel heads hanging out in the Medina souks, I couldn’t resist trying a bit of camel for myself and I thought in burger form would be the perfect entry-level introduction. While I can tick camel off my carnivore’s hit-list, I can’t say it was all that memorable as a meat – it was an all round good burger though! While we came for the food, this fun and casual cafe is about so much more than that. They regularly host musical performances, cultural exhibitions and workshops, as well as cooking classes!
Nomad – Modern Moroccan
We rarely visit the same place twice in one trip but made an exception for Nomad because we loved the food and atmosphere so much. Despite being in the heart of the Medina, it was an oasis amongst the madness and the higher you go, the better it gets. We whittled away one afternoon with a late lunch on the rooftop watching the world continue to hustle by down below and came back on our final night for drinks at sunset and dinner by candlelight.
Their modern take on traditional dishes really appealed to us – all the flavours were there with an added bonus of freshness and style. We tried a range of dishes over our two visits but the one we ordered both times was the Tunisian brik, an incredibly moreish filo-type pastry pie filled with lamb, turnip, harissa and an egg with a perfectly runny yolk. Even if you’re not in the mood for a meal, make sure you stop in for a drink and the view!
Grand Cafe de la Poste – Date Night Dinner
This swanky bistro in central Gueliz is all about stylish dining in a stylish setting. We came for dinner so the mood lighting and soft music was on, all evoking memories of a colonial era. The menu has distinctly French and Mediterranean influences which yielded no complaints from us. We started with a decadent beef carpaccio topped with shards of parmesan before enjoying duck on dauphinoise pototatoes, and delicate prawn stew. The service moves at its own pace so don’t expect to rush, just sit back and relax with a glass of Moroccan wine in hand!
La Mamounia – Cocktails in Style
As it was our first, and likely to be our only visit to Marrakech, we couldn’t resist a turn around the legendary La Mamounia hotel. Said to be the first hotel in Africa and frequented by many political figures and Hollywood stars back in the day, this 5-star hotel has been delivering luxury and opulence since the 1920s. Our pockets were not quite deep enough to justify a stay at the hotel but we could stretch to a couple of cocktails in their courtyard bar before a stroll through their gardens!
So Make a Move…
While Moroccan food and I got off to a shaky start, the architecture and landscape I immediately liked – everywhere you look is a kaleidoscope of colours! We enjoyed our visit to the ornate Bahia Palace and the contrasting ruins of the El Badi Palace, as well as the more sedate Saadian Tombs. Less exciting was the Jardin Marjorelle; we found the much-lauded gardens of Yves St Laurent just a tad lacklustre and completed overpriced… We also weren’t overly fond of the snake charmers, chained monkeys, and henna painters in Jemaa el-Fnaa or the souks but both still deserve a visit for their manic atmosphere – just being in the midst of it all is an experience!
- Al Fassia, 55 Boulevard Mohamed Zerktouni, Marrakech
- Cafe Clock, Derb Chtouka, Marrakech
- Nomad, 1 Derb Aarjan, Rahba Lakdima, Marrakech
- Grand Cafe de la Poste, Corner of Boulevard el-Mansour Eddahbi and Avenue Imam Malik, Marrakech
- La Mamounia, Avenue Prince Moulay Rachid, Marrakech
Have you been to Marrakech? What did you think of Moroccan food?