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Restaurants of Marrakech : the definitive guide to eating out in Morocco’s Red City

Posted on November 29, 2011 by James Robbins

One of the most wonderful things about Morocco is the culinary experience. And the range of restaurants in Marrakech covers all budgets and appetites – whether your taste buds crave traditional Moroccan flavours or something a little more familiar.

And it’s not just about the food – there are many experiences to be had in Marrakech: You may be looking for a casual night in the square, a romantic evening for two, an authentic of Moroccan meal followed by some belly dancing, or something a little wilder.

So with that mind, we’ve compiled this definitive guide to the best restaurants in Marrakech. After all, everybody has a favourite place in the city, and we’ve written this guide to help you find yours.

A square meal

As the sun sets, Djemaa el Fna (the main square in Marrakech) turns into a fabulous night market and is well worth exploring. Follow your nose to the collection of food stalls; you’ll find a range of fish, meat and vegetable dishes for a very fair price.

The food is fast and cheap. Quality wise … well that just depends on the night. I’ve had delicious food on some nights; other times it’s been overdone to say the least. But what I can say with my hand on my heart is that I have never been ill and never had a bad time at Djemaa el Fna. It’s certainly an experience worth ticking off your list.

A food stall in Djemaa el Fna square

Above: The night stalls at Djemaa el Fna, by Tom Parker – see the full collection here.

You will see tourists and locals all sitting together enjoying what the square has to offer at this time of night. No doubt you’ll also be approached by one of the many restaurant workers who’ll do their best to entice you to eat at their establishment. Some of their truth-bending propositions will make you smile – expect a “come and eat at Jamie Oliver’s restaurant” or “this is Gordon Ramsey’s new place in the square”. (By all means choose one of these restaurants if you wish. Just don’t expect Jamie or Gordon to make an appearance.)

Traditional Moroccan cuisine

If you are looking for a far more traditional Moroccan meal then there are, in my view, only four restaurants to consider.

The first is Dar Yacout (Derb Sidi Ahmed Soussi 79 – Tel: 024 38 29 29), a restaurant located in the medina and incredibly famous for the arab interior design and the amazing ceiling. Guests have come back from a meal at Yacout with neck ache from looking up so much. The food here is amazing, but there is an awful lot of it – you must pace yourself! Expect up to seven courses to arrive at your table, so avoid the temptation of filling up on the first two.

Above: Dar Yacout by night, courtesy of Kat n Kim’s Marrakech set on Flickr

Similar to Dar Yacout is Dar Moha (Rue Dar el Bacha – Tel: 024 38 64 00). Again, the food is amazing. The atmosphere isn’t perhaps as lively as Dar Yacout, but you may prefer a quieter ambience. Certainly worth considering.

Le Tobsil (Rmila Bab Ksour – Tel: 024 44 15 23) is a charming little restaurant, and much more understated than Dar Yacout. When your taxi drops you off, you’re greeted by a man from the restaurant with a lantern. He walks you down a narrow alley to the restaurant door and you enter into a small oasis from the streets of the medina. Again, expect plenty of courses – but when the food is this good, tucking into the next course is a joy rather than a chore. The food, atmosphere and service all get a big thumbs up from me, so I’m sure you’ll have a fabulous night at Le Tobsil.

The last of the four is Foundouk (55 Souk Hal Fassi – Tel: 024 37 81 90). Although you’ll find plenty of traditional Moroccan flavours here, the menu is also dotted with french cuisine. Foundouk’s popularity amongst our guests seems to fluctuate – I suddenly get waves of guests booking and then none for a long time. But certainly worth a visit so you can decide for yourself.

A little taste of Italy

Casanova (221 Avenue El Manour, Gueliz – Tel:  024 32 3735), an Italian restaurant in Gueliz, is the first restaurant I went to when I first came to Marrakech back in 2006. It has a good atmosphere and is pretty cheap. It’s not necessarily one of my favourite restaurants, but if you are on a budget and with a group of friends then I think you’ll have a good time here – I always do.

If you want an Italian restaurant that’s a little more upmarket and romantic, then head to La Trattoria (179 Rue Mohammed El Bekal – Tel: 024 43 2641) – also in Gueiliz. This certainly is one of my favourites in Marrakech. The setting is quite stunning: tables are set around a beautifully small pool in a courtyard that’s teeming with amazing flowers and plants – the drooping petals that look like upside down trumpets nearly touching the pool like are a personal favourite. The restaurant is popular among tourists, but also expat French and the media crowd from Marrakech.

Above: The courtyard at La Trattoria, courtesy of La Trattoria’s website

And the food? Well, I love it. Perhaps because it’s a pleasant break from Moroccan cuisine, but also because the quality is better than good and the service is professional. The last time I was there, I overheard a couple saying that this was their third time in La Trattoria in one week – I think that tells you a lot.

Bo-Zin

And so to what I would call the most fun place to head to in Marrakech. Bo-Zin (Route de l’ Ourika – Tel: 024 38 80 12) is the chic and glitzy restaurant the gossip journalists rave about because it’s where the rich and famous come to party hard.

Bo-Zin is on the outskirts of the city, on the same road as Club Pacha. It’s not what you’d describe as traditional Moroccan, but does have everything which has made Marrakech a place for the rich and famous.

As you enter, there is an immediate feeling of the Asian fusion influence that has gone into making this restaurant. The decor is flowing and very cool – and this slickness is mirrored in the service. Everybody is attractive, from the host who greets you at the desk to the servers that shows you to your seat. The music is contemporary and very well selected (well, they certainly think so because you can buy Bo-Zin CDs to take the experience home with you).

Outside, the garden boasts water features landscaped perfectly around seating areas and semi-tropical plants. But the main features that draw the eyes are the two fire stands. These huge, two-metre wide metal plates on stilts with large fires in the centre are very simple, perhaps, but they give the place a distinctive ambience and definitely create the wow factor.

And so to the food. There’s an Asian / Thai twist to the menu, which consists of Asian, Moroccan and French/European dishes at each stage. The wine list is extensive, with lots of great French reds, Champagnes, and Morocco wines. Thankfully, the food lives up to Bo-Zin’s impressive styling; it’s simply delicious and I always enjoy going there.

Above: The dining area at Bo-Zin

After your meal, make sure you stick around. You may have noticed the music has been slowly changing, and by about 11pm the beat is distinctively stronger and the vibe in the room has changed. People gather around the long bar and the place is slowly changing from a restaurant to a cocktail bar with great music. Don’t be surprised if you’re still there at three o’clock in the morning.

One thing that I must stress is that Bo-Zin is not a club and is not full of twenty-somethings. It is far more sophisticated and the average age is much older. In fact, I would say maybe late 30s or even mid 40s – but there are young people here too.

Bo-Zin is not your standard, incredibly loud, cramped club. It is an airy, open, and not-too-loud bar with dancing. If you want the normal club scene then just head outside to the taxi rank and Pacha is fives minutes down the road.

Wild cards

The first I am going to mention is the Azar (Rue de Yougoslavie –  Tel: +212(0) 524 430 920) – a French-Lebanese restaurant in Gueliz. I call it a wild card as every time I have been, there are not many people there but the food is very good. The interior design is very modern and smart, and the service is also good but that could be because of how quiet it was! I really cannot see any reason as to why this restaurant should be empty as the Arabian cuisine is divine.

Metro 80 (27, avenue Hassan II – Tel: 05 25 06 03 84) is, hence the name, very close to the train station. It’s a fabulous little French restaurant that serves real French food at good prices. I know it must be a good French restaurant as a large group of fifty-somethings who are all french expats in Marrakech were raving about it when I was in there.

The owners are cheerful, smiley and lots of fun. The interior is a little strange (bright silver covering on the tables and chairs!) but you soon get over that and start enjoying the close, friendly atmosphere of the place. The food, I have to say, is delicious. Perhaps because I enjoy a break from Moroccan food once in a while, but I think after visiting you’ll agree.

After the meal we headed down the steep stairs to the very small bar and were greeted with a shot of tequila. Shortly after, the dancing started. Metro 80 is a very surreal place as you almost forget that you’re in Morocco; you could just as easily be in some Ville en France.

But if you are looking for something different in Marrakech – either you’re bored of the tajine, getting fed up with the sometimes overly-attentive service in the glitzy restaurants or are just wanting to find a hidden gem in the red City – then head to Metro 80.

Best of the rest

Try Le Comptoir (Avenue Echchouada, Hivernage – Tel: 024 43 77 02) or Jad Mahal (Fontaine de la Mamounia – Tel: 024 43 69 84) – both restaurants are busy every night like Bo-Zin and also have a bar for drinks after your meal. Their location is far more central as they are in the Hivernage area of city. I’ve had enjoyable nights at both of these restaurants, and the highlight of the evening in both is the belly dancing show towards the end of the meal. The food is again a mixture of European and Moroccan at La Comptoir, but at Jad Mahal there is a Thai fusion element added.

If you get the desire for Indian cuisine when you’re in Marrakech, and want it the Moroccon way, then head to Salam Bombay (1, AV Mohammed VI – Tel: 024 43 70 83) – it’s a very stylish and contemporary Indian restaurant. The food is good and well presented. The cocktails in the bar afterwards are well worth staying for, too. (But for the finest Mojito in town, head to the Bab hotel bar.)

In summary

For traditional Moroccan food – Dar Yacout, Dar Moha, Le Tobsil, or Foundouk
For upmarket Italian – La Trattoria
For pizza, and if you are on a slight budget – Cazenova
For Indian – Bombay
For a very touristic, mini adventure – eat in the square
For glitz, glam and dancing – Bo-Zin
For an enjoyable meal and belly dancing – Le Comptoir or Jad Mahal
Wild Cards – Azar for something Arabian and very tasty food or Metro 80 for that special night of fun and good French food

Afterwards

If you want to head out for a night of dancing in Marrakech then head to either Le Theatro or Pacha night club. If you fancy trying your luck at the roulette table or showing/hiding your hand then head to the Saadi Casino which is next to the night club Theatro within the grounds of the famous Es Saadi hotel.

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