The combination of age-old North African culture and a thriving contemporary art scene make Marrakech, Morocco, a fascinating city to visit. This duality between old and new prevails within the city’s fine dining landscape. Here are the best spots to try.
Restaurant, Moroccan, $$$
Hidden away down a secluded Medina alleyway, Le Jardin brings a touch of French elegance and refinement to the bustle of the Marrakech old town. It is an oasis of peace within the chaotic world of the Medina, and allows diners to experience the palatial charm of ancient Marrakech in peace and quiet. Located in a 17th-century mansion, Le Jardin is built around a large central courtyard and features a beautiful combination of traditional Moroccan design and retro 1960s decor. It was started by Kamal Laftimi and interior designer Anne Favier, who discovered the house in ruins and rebuilt it to suit their very distinctive tastes. They now describe it as a ‘place of culture’ in which guests can relax, enjoy film screenings and other special events. The extensive menu features Moroccan classics and organic dishes.
Set within an atmospheric riad, Dar Moha is one of the best places in town to experience ‘new Moroccan cuisine’. This is a reinvention of classical gastronomy in which the core flavours of Moroccan cooking are interweaved with innovative techniques and cooking styles. The restaurant is run by Mohamed Fedal, who transformed the beautiful riad into an idyllic dining space in which guests are seated around the pool of the patio area. Dishes such as pastilla lobster coriander juice, cockerel with olives and preserved lemon or chakhchoukha (wafer crumbs) with apple sauce are absorbing takes on the flavours of the Moroccan home, and are as comforting as they are astonishing.
Al Fassia Gueliz, and its near identical sister restaurant Al Fassia Aguedal, offer stimulating selections of traditional Moroccan home cooking. Both restaurants are as popular with locals as they are with tourists, as the former come for type of food they remember from childhood – simple, hearty dishes with an emphasis on freshness. The restaurant features an extensive à la carte menu that allows diners to try out a variety of dishes. The sumptuous pigeon pastilla comes highly recommended, while the mechoui, roast leg of lamb, which must be ordered in advance, is a worthwhile centrepiece to any meal.
A banquet hall that attempts to return diners to the era of extravagance and luxury of the Moroccan pashas, Le Tobsil is a peaceful haven hidden amid the twisting alleyways of the Medina. Its stone arches, white table cloths and candle lit ambience make it ideal for a romantic escape. Chef Fatima Mountassamim has created a different set meal for every day of the week, based around fresh market produce and traditional Moroccan flavours that are cooked with meticulous care and attention. She has been highly acclaimed for her abundant presentation of the old staples like couscous and tagine, which are treated with an eye towards extravagance and indulgence. They keep her many loyal customers coming back for more.
Founded by Marcel Chiche, Comptoir Darna Marrakech is a combination of luxury ballroom, performance space and Art Deco villa, with regular performances of Moroccan dancing and music. The decor verges on gaudiness at times, but the intoxicating atmosphere more than makes up for it. The opulent dining area and exotic performances are complemented by a lovingly crafted menu that brings out the best of French and Moroccan cuisine and adds touches from Asian culinary traditions. The seafood tagine, featuring prawns, mussels, octopus and squids, and the ‘Famous Méchoui’, a lamb shoulder, steam cooked and then roasted and served with vegetables, are highlights of the menu. The food is only part of the appeal of this decadent dance hall, which truly comes alive once dinner is over.
Described as a ‘Medina institution’, Dar Yacout is one of the most popular Marrakech restaurants. Diners are drawn in by its combination of theatrical design and unforgettable cooking. Originally designed by architect Bill Willis, an American expat to Morocco, the restaurant has reinventions of classic Moroccan design motifs, which give the impression of being in a fantasy palace from the Arabian Nights. The lavish grandeur of the interiors is elegantly offset by the rustic hearty cuisine, which features all the mainstays of Moroccan cuisine, cooked to perfection. The rooftop terrace, where diners can enjoy a drink before or after their meal, is another attraction. It features an incredible view of the Koutoubia mosque.
Terrasse des Épices, located on a hidden rooftop terrace in the heart of the Old Town, is one of the best places in the Medina to relax over a drink and enjoy fresh Franco-Moroccan cuisine. It is less luxurious than some of its local rivals with a contemporary design characterised by dark wood and rattan furniture, and a view of the rooftops of the Medina and the far off Atlas Mountains. Al fresco dining is nothing new in Marrakech but Terrasse des Épices does it to perfection, and dishes such as Chicken tagine with lemon confit and Filet de saint pierre are highlights of a hugely enticing menu.
Offering a decidedly trendy take on contemporary Moroccan food, Bô-Zin dispenses with much of the Medina traditions. Instead, it focuses on creating a convivial atmosphere throughout its extensive restaurant. The pergola, bar and garden space often fill up with diners, who are transformed into dancers as the night progresses. Regular performances are also held in the space from singers, bands and DJs. The music is so fundamental to the experience in fact that there is even a CD on sale of Bô-Zin tunes, allowing diners to recreate the ambience at home.