Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Dar Fez - Boo in Marrakesh

We asked the lovely owners of our riad, Riad Clementine, to recommend a nearby place to eat on the second evening of our stay. They did offer food where we were staying but guests need to inform the kitchen of their dining intentions during the day in order for the chef to purchase sufficient ingredients. We'd neglected to do this so sampled the delights of the nearby Dar Fez.

We were told we would be greeted by one of the waiters as the place is located off the main street down a little alleyway (pictured top). As is the case with most venues in Marrakesh but we thought this was a very nice touch. The sight that met us upon entering the dining room was awesome, a massive tree is situated in the middle of the space with branches tangling all the way up the length of the walls making for pretty spectacular surroundings.

We both went for a set menu option of a selection of salads to start, tagine for main and some melon and traditional biscuits served with mint tea for afters.

The 'salads' for me were the highlight of the meal, more of a Moroccan meze selection really with a variety of dishes including aubergine, courgettes, olives, lettuce (dressed with rosewater), spicy tomatoes, lentils, red cabbage all served with the obligatory flatbreads. I love this type of eating.

This time I opted for the lamb tagine with prunes. I didn't really notice a huge difference from venue to venue, and having tried multiple versions over our 4 day trip I would conclude that I prefer the red meat tagines, the chicken we tried tended to be fairly on the dry side despite being served on the bone whereas the beef and lamb are typically cut into smaller chunks to ensure they are moist and tender. Dar Fez's take on the dish was very heavy on the prunes though, I left many of them. They were very generous portion sizes.

Next up was a plate of melon. Water, galia and cantelope this was good and a nice light alternative to dessert. We also had mint tea and this came with 3 types of traditional Moroccan biscuits, served on a tiered serving dish there were loads of them, far too many for the 2 of us to get through.

We'd opted for the 4 course menu, there were additional menus which added a pastilla course and/or a cous cous but we found this to be more than enough food. We paid about £30 each and had a bottle of rose, very reasonable. We were the only diners throughout the evening though, I always find that slightly unnerving.

Dar Fez
8 Rue Bousoouni
Bab Doukalla

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

La Maison Arabe - Boo in Marrakesh

On our final night in Marrakesh we opted for something a bit fancier and tried out the legendary and long established Maison Arabe. This place was a real trailblazer in that they were the first hotel to open up to the general non staying public, serving tourists traditional Moroccan food with a modern twist, they also have a cookery school. The building is luxurious and the decor plush, fully air conditioned with a piano bar in which to enjoy a pre dinner drink and a terrace restaurant overlooking a beautiful and romantically lit outdoor pool.

Upon arrival I had a Prosecco whilst Thomas opted for a mojito and we nibbled on some complimentary almonds whilst listening to the piano player. He took requests! We did however feel slightly rushed, having arrived early and finding the restaurant far from full we were surprised to be hurried into looking at the menu and ordering whilst sitting in the bar. It felt like the waiters were watching us as we finished our drinks, waiting to pounce at the very moment our empty glasses hit the table. We had asked what would be the best time to book for dinner, 9:30 was suggested so we were a little taken aback by this.

As we sat down the starters and some bread arrived, we'd barely had time to unravel our napkins but I enjoyed the food. I had ordered the pastilla with chicken and almond and Thomas the pastilla aux de mer, on that day with monkfish but the fish varies by season. We soon realised that we preferred each others and swapped, the fish was perfectly cooked with just the right amount of citrus, the pastry was crisp yet holding it's shape and I enjoyed this take on the dish far more that the previous one I'd tried at the Djemaa el Fna.

There is a choice of menu here, you can opt for either the national cuisine or a choice of dishes from around the globe, no brainer really, for main course I had the beef tagine with oranges which was perhaps a tad too sweet for my tastes but the meat was succulent and flavoursome (served on the bone, I don't recall the cut) and there was some candied peel on top adding a bitter edge. Thomas had a chicken tagine and this time we skipped the cous cous side order, feeling that end of trip bloat. There was plenty of bread to mop up the tagine juices with.

Feeling full we requested a break before dessert and retired poolside to finish our wine (house white) and enjoy the music courtesy of Badaoui & Isbah Khalid (see some of their work here on YouTube), it was really quite mesmerising and created an amazing relaxed atmosphere, we took away with us one of their cds. By the end of the night it was just us and 1 other couple enjoying the music, it felt like a private intimate gig and made the night for us.

However, once again the mood was scuppered slightly by the hurried service and our desserts were served after around 5 minutes instead of the half an hour break we'd politely asked for. I really liked the passion fruit souffle but I just couldn't find room to finish and I rarely leave food. The music did make up for it though and I would recommend La Maison Arabe, it's a blissful haven of tranquility amidst the hectic alleys of Marrakesh. As a reflection of the superior food they serve, the prices here are a lot higher than we paid anywhere else in the city but it was well worth it for the entertainment in particular.

p.s this is not to be confused with Cafe Arabe, a place we frequented daily for the duration of our stay mostly because we loved the water spray system they have on the roof terrace. With temperatures soaring into the late 30s we sought refuge here to cool down and enjoy a drink. Again, it's a tad on the pricey side by Marrakesh standards but we would always make the most of the complimentary bowls of olives and bread sticks. They do a mean bloody mary too.

La Maison Arabe
1, Derb Assehbé
Bab Doukkala

Cafe Arabe
184, rue Mouassine

Monday, 16 August 2010

Djemaa el Fna - Boo in Marrakesh

I'd been warned about the culture shock factor one travelling to Marrakesh is bound to experience but nothing can prepare you for the mayhem and disarray of the Djemaa el Fna, Marrakesh's central market place where by day you can hang with monkeys, drinks some cooling freshly squeezed fruit juice or watch snake charmers working their magic. By night there are hundreds of food stalls, each trying to entice the tourists with sheep's head stews or kebabs for the more faint hearted!

I'm not typically a fan of fruit juice, I find it quite heavy and they're rarely 100% pure juice but these were irresistible, and about 10p per glass. There are dozens of stalls set up during the day, we inadvertently found ourselves here about 2 hours after touching down in Morocco, having got lost in the souks on a stroll around to find our bearings. Within seconds there was a monkey attached to my neck and a lady had grabbed my arm and attempted to temporarily tattoo it. It's absolutely crazy, you really need have a purpose and stick to it when visiting, if you amble around aimlessly (which is precisely what you want to do on holiday) then you will be accosted.

To gain brief respite from the madness we ducked into Cafe de France and tried our first of many tagines. Chicken for me, with preserved lemons and green olives. The chicken was a tad dry and the sauce a little oily.

I liked the tang of the preserved lemon but the dish was a little disappointing, I'd arrived with enormous expectations and I suppose I expected to be bowled over by the quality of the food here. Thomas' beef tagine with prunes, sesame and almonds was better but the vegetable cous cous we chose to share was a bland mound topped with soggy insipid vegetables.

We were disappointed to conclude that we'd probably been too hasty choosing to eat here. We head back to the peaceful tranquility of Riad Clementine.

A day or 2 later we returned to the market at night when it is really quite a spectacle. Groups of locals gather dancing and telling stories, the air is thick with smoke and aromas from the numerous food stalls. First stop was for pastillas, traditional Moroccan meat pies, pigeon for me and Thomas had chicken.

I really liked the delicate pastry, the meat was good but I found the sweet and savoury combination a bit too different for my palette. We moved on to sample some skewers of mixed grilled meats and vegetables at a different stall. At each stand you are first served a flatbread and some chilli sauce, often olives too. I found myself mindlessly tucking into these whilst absorbing the atmosphere and was quite full after this times 2.

Here we were also served a tomato salad. The chilli sauce was great, very salty with a hefty chilli kick, the kebabs were nice but nothing out of the ordinary.

It really is quite unlike any other place I've ever visited, there is such a buzz, donkeys, mopeds and small children vying for right of way and demanding your attention. There is so much choice at night that it's hard to know whether what we had is representative, I was thinking about trying some of the sheep's head stews but seeing so many of them on display was not particularly appealing.

Everything is ridiculously cheap, the stallholders are all super friendly and you'd be hard pushed to find a more entertaining eating environment than here.

Monday, 9 August 2010


For me weekday lunchtimes are boring, I'm a salad at lunch kind of girl, as I've explained before, I just am, metabolism dictates, also I am often so busy at work that I don't get chance to enjoy a relaxing hour, I wolf something down at my desk, blah blah blah....moan over.

Sometimes though, appetite, hangover or both combined, means that a salad just won't do, one such day I opted for sushi.

Perhaps inspired by the recent bout of posts on blogger find Sushi of Shiori, I decided to return to Tobiko, where I've been for soup before and loved it. Buoyed by these Qype reviews of the sushi I sampled the salmon and tuna selection for £5.80.

In short it was great, enough rice to quell the carb craving without making me feeling too full in the immediate aftermath. Freshly rolled daily (in view of those passing by early morning), you can select any sushi mix from the counter or if you don't wish to queue go for a house selection. I got there late to avoid the masses.

I'll definitely be back, there are lots of hot dishes to sample come the colder months. Fresh, affordable and very friendly staff it's certainly the best of it's kind in the Covent Garden area. They also sell everything off super cheap late afternoon because they are not open in the evenings.

8 Garrick Street
Covent Garden


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