Once the largest city in the world, Fez was nicknamed ‘Athens of the East’ and ‘Mecca of the West’. Although it lost its capital status in 1925, contemporary Fez is a UNESCO-listed heritage site, and is a gastronomical haven. The countless riads, each with an elegant courtyard and magnificently tiled rooms, now house restaurants that serve traditional Fassi cuisine, whilst the labyrinthine souks offer some of world’s best street food.
Over the course of almost a decade, Café Clock has become a mainstay of Fez social and cultural life, and the favourite haunt of locals, expatriates, and tourists alike. British proprietor Mike Richardson, who was formerly maitre’d at London’s exclusive Wolseley, has fused his experience of high-quality cuisine with his passion for Fez to create something special. Set on numerous levels in an elegantly restored townhouse, Café Clock is especially famed in town for its camel burgers, prepared to a unique, closely guarded recipe from fresh local meat. By day, it plays host to talks on Moroccan culture and lessons in cooking and calligraphy; at night, local and touring musicians jam and films are screened in a tiny leather-chaired cinema.
Cafe Clock, 7 Derb el Magana, Fez, Morocco, +212 661 183264
Le Palais de Fez
Despite its burgeoning expatriate and tourist population, Fez is still very much a city of closely guarded secrets, with several of its most stunning sights off bounds to travellers. Le Palais de Fez, which can only be entered via several staircases above a carpet shop, provides the best viewing platform for visitors eager to see the turquoise-roofed al-Qarawiyyin madrasa and mosque. It is also one of Fez’ finest traditional restaurants, with tiled pillars and a stunning mosaic ceiling. Order an array of sharing starters to get a sense of Fez’ rich and diverse cuisine before choosing your tajine. More daring diners should try the pastilla – a spicy pie stuffed with the meat of young pigeons – which is rumoured to be the best in town.
Le Palais de Fez, 15 Makhfia Ecrif, Fez, Morocco, +212 535 761590
Those in search of a sumptuous Mediterranean feast need look no further. Attached to one of Fez’s most elegant guesthouses, Dar Roumana (‘House of the Pomegranate’) serves French/Mediterranean dishes with local touches, spearheaded by a classically trained French chef with the experience of several Michelin-starred kitchens. The intimate courtyard dining room gleams with gold, white and blue mosaics and an ornate cedar ceiling, whilst the rooftop seating area offers a panoramic view of the entire Medina. The small market-based menu changes every day according to the seasonal produce available, but typical evening delicacies may include the likes of spiced roast poussin marinated in pomegranate molasses, line-caught sea bass with chermoula and camel’s milk rice pudding with marinated cherries. With only five tables available and one sitting each evening, reservations are essential.
Dar Roumana, 30 Derb el-Amer, Fez, Morocco, +212 535 741637
The favourite eatery of local website The News from Fez, Thami’s Kitchen is the perfect place to enjoy the city’s thriving street food scene. Only a little expanded from its origins as a single table on a street corner near the spectacular Bab Boujeloud, Thami’s is the place for those who want to soak up the medina’s frenzied atmosphere. The food – which includes local favourites like kefta tajine, pastilia, aubergine stew and a mélange of spicy vegetables – is easily the equal of Fez’ more rarefied restaurants, but the true star here is Thami himself. Make a return visit and prepare to be treated like an old friend.
Thami’s Kitchen, Bou Jeloud, 50 Serrajine, Fez, Morocco +212 706 40130
As delicious as Fez’ cuisine is, the staple dishes available throughout the medina are only a small fraction of the delicacies enjoyed in homes and restaurants throughout Morocco. The Palais Amani, attached to one of the city’s most opulent riad hotels, seeks to remedy this, with ever-shifting set menus infused with the flavours of the entire country alongside an all day a la carte selection. Regular delights include flavoursome lamb tajines, poussins stuffed with olives and citrus fruits, and saffron-infused monkfish cassolette. Eat in the tranquil candlelit courtyard, where a glorious fountain lies surrounded by contemporary furniture and intricately carved columns.
Palais Amani, 12 Derb el Miter, Fez, Morocco, +212 535 633209
The Ruined Garden
In a city suffused with romantic restaurants and scenic caFez, the Ruined Garden might just be the most enchanting dining experience of all. Set within the remains of a grand merchant’s riad – until recently used as a rubbish dump – diners can sit above a beautifully coloured mosaic floor surrounded by verdant flora. Come here at lunchtime for delectable pastries, cakes and delicate Moroccan favourites, including svenge (Moroccan savoury donuts) with salmon and eggs, salad with zaalouk (smoked aubergine puree) and artichoke tajine. For supper, which must be booked in advance, guests can sample seven-hour grilled mechoui lamb accompanied with produce from the garden.
Ruined Garden, Siaj, Sidi Ahmed Chaoui, Fez, Morocco, +212 535 633066
Restaurant Numero 7
Hidden away in an eighteenth-century townhouse, deep within the medina, Restaurant Numero 7 is a unique proposition. Acclaimed chefs-in-residence are invited from around the world to spend a month running the kitchen, with the proviso that they only use Fassi produce and work with the in-house staff. As such, the menu varies day-to-day and month-to-month as different chefs experiment with the city’s rich culinary heritage, but guests can always expect innovative combinations of flavour and superb ingredients. The décor is as striking as the food. Black and white mosaics, created using traditional techniques, embellished whitewashed walls while a few works of contemporary art deal with local themes. The effect is awesome, standing between medieval and modern to lend the space a serene, atemporal air.
Restaurant Numero 7, 7 Kkak Rouah, Fez, Morocco, +212 614 252420
For all the recent upsurge in tourism and the extraordinary number of riad hotels strewn through the medina, Fez is still a conservative city at heart. Sitting just outside the Medina, near the Bab Al Makina palace and Boujloud Square, La Mezzanine is one of the few places in town where you can swap ancient for contemporary and mint tea for cocktails. Patronised by the Fez’ hippest young residents, here you can view the expansive Jnan Sbil gardens from a roof terrace furnished with sleek modern chairs, comfortable cushions and candles. The menu offers tapas-style dishes from both Morocco and the Mediterranean, including blue cheese briouates, chicken skewers and patatas bravas.
La Mezzanine, 17 Kasbat Chams, Fez, Morocco, +212 611 078336
La Maison Bleue
Built in 1915 by the prominent astrologer and judge Sidi Mohammed El Abbadi, La Maison Bleue has a belle époque opulence quite unlike that of the ancient city’s gorgeous medieval interiors. Still run by the astrologer’s descendants, to step into La Maison is to step into the lives of an eminent local family. The tall, airy dining room is resplendent, featuring minutely carved wood panels and luxurious chairs. Highlights of the menu include a diverse range of Fassi salads and couscous prepared to a thirteenth-century recipe, served with fine local wine. Local Berber musicians provide a restrained accompaniment to the food.
La Maison Bleu, 2 Ahmed Mekouar Square, Fez, Morocco, +212 535 741843
Despite being nestled within the medina, the riad dubbed Le Jardin des Biehn holds within it a surprisingly vast garden, designed in Andalusian style and encompassing both paradisiacal walks and produce for the kitchen. The cafe, with its pastel coloured walls and doors open to the courtyard, is one of the most relaxed in Fez. The food, which draws equally on Moroccan cuisine and that of Mediterranean France, is among the most delicious in town; fusion highlights include salmon tapenade, duck pastilla or the spiced goats cheese salad. After dining, sip some local white wine on the roof garden and listen to the nighttime call to prayer.
Fez Cafe, 13 Akbat Sbaa Douh, Fez, Morocco, +212 535 634031
By Joseph Lloyd