Some more Marrakech experiences
by Slug on November 3, 2012
Our tour company for our mountain walk arranged for us to have a farewell meal in Marrakech. As our trip was a budget one we weren't anticipating anything fancy, and so was most impressed when we were led out onto a rooftop dining area in the centre of Marrakech, just down the road from the main square. While the restaurant didn't serve alcohol it was a minor grumble considering the food was so good and plentiful. Starters were a huge array of beautiful fresh salads and dips meze style, and after a week of tagine on the mountain, it was lovely to have something just a little bit different for dinner. Along with the bread and olives, I was quite happy with the half dozen or so dishes they had put out. After starter came the mains, and we were staggered with the amount of food put on the table. A whole chicken cooked in a slightly spicy and very tasty dark sauce, a huge casserole of lamb; a tagine (I swear it was lucky not to have been tossed from the roof top after a week of eating it), and some lovely chicken pastille (chicken cooked with almonds and rolled in filo pastry) and some kebab meat with rice. It really was all too over facing and it felt very decadent (which I suppose was the point). For sweet, I was relieved to find some lovely fresh fruit on offer and I managed a few bits of juicy mango so I could at least pretend that I had had a healthy meal rather than the big splurge in reality. Service was quick and friendly, and we liked looking out over Marrakech from the rooftop. Overall, I think the Riad Omar offered our best Marrakech meal and considering the restaurant is down one of the main streets leading off from the main square, quite an easy place to find (although the entrance to the restaurant is quite small and concealed).
Hungry after a mornings wandering around the souk (our determination not to catch any sellers eye took it out of us), we were about resigned to working out which restaurant to choose on the main square, when we rounded a corner and came across a simple but clean looking restaurant the KFE Cafe. I got quite excited as we discovered that the cafe was up quite a few steps and on a tiny (perhaps 15 foot square) tower which extended a short way above the souk. Even more exciting was that in addition to the couple of tables around the food preparation area, there was a further space set out for dining on the roof top. We saw that the restaurant was French run, that the kitchen looked spotless, and offered nice little lunch time nibbles such as hummus and bread Obviously it looked like a great place for a bite to eat. I decided to try the mixed salad plate and was not disappointed; I love lentils and these cooked lentils were delicious, and I still had cous cous and home made Ratatouille to sample. It had to be yet another bottle of Fanta orange to accompany our meal; by this point I was certain my stomach lining was dayglo orange, but it was a good drink to have in the hot and bright sunshine. The cafe doesn’t offer alcohol.Meanwhile we liked the view above the souk although the day was baking hot and there was very little shade on our perch. Still, it made us realise just how compact and intense the area was and how easy it was to lose your way. Service was prompt and the bathroom facilities although simple were clean as was the dining area. If you can ever find the place (bear left at the main square into the souk and it is just a little way into the maze of streets) then it offers a good lunchtime spot.
by Slug on November 11, 2012
The Ensemble Artisanal in Marrakech on Ave Mohammed V about 5 minutes walk from the main square Djemaa el Fna and towards the main mosque at Koutobia Minaret is a great fixed price market place run by the Government and which allows visitors to look at local goods at their leisure and fairly free from over keen sellers. Both times we have visited Marrakech we have taken a stroll to this little market area to mainly get a feel for the prices we should be paying in the souks and haven't left empty handed either time. Most of the money spent goes to the craftsmen and women so it's also helpful for the local economy rather than most of the profit going into the hands of the shop owners as it does in the souk. To be fair you may be able to haggle prices down a little further out there in the souk market but the Ensemble Artisanal is a safe and easy place to shop. There are about 20 different shops in the Ensemble Artisanal area; you just wander around an open courtyard with the shops dotted along the edge. Everything is clean and tidy and there's plenty of space to wander around unlike the narrow souk. There seems to be one or two shops covering one of the main crafts on offer in the souks, so you can buy shoes and leather goods, good quality silks, wooden handicrafts, metalwork and herbs and spices here.Obviously there isn't the choice that you may find in some of the souks so I suggest you visit in addition to a trip round the souk rather than instead of. Entrance is free and the short wander from the centre of town is hardly an encumbrance. Well recommended as part of your Marrakech orientation process!
Around a dozen years ago when we last visited Marrakech the Jardin Majorelle were fairly quiet and a little run down, so we rather foolishly thought it would be similar and so sauntered over to the gardens after lunch to find them fairly packed out. The gardens were founded by French expat artist Jacques Majorelle in 1924. Majorelle as a painter is largely forgotten today, although his father a famous furniture maker is still renowned. Rather annoyingly for Majorelle his gardens are remembered today largely because they were purchased and championed by French fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent in 1980.The gardens are a little way out of Marrakech city centre; we walked it in about 30 minutes but the way is dusty and busy with traffic, so you would be as well to grab one of the many taxis that are around on every Marrakech street to it. At the entrance there are a parade of shops (something I didn't remember during our last visit) selling designer and tourist gear. We did pretty well buying a scarf, a handbag and for my patience a Morocco T-Shirt. The gardens aren't huge at about 12 acres, and as I said it was rather frustratingly busy so we didn't get a quiet or peaceful experience. While the birds were singing, we felt the sound had to be taped as no self respecting bird would stay in the crowds for very long. The entrance fee was £3.50 which was reasonable, although there was an extra charge to visit the small museum in the original house; I understand it houses local and original clothing from times gone by. While the crowds disappointed me, I could not help but get swept away in the garden; the wonderful deep Majorelle blue of the walls contrasting wonderfully with the brightly painted primary colours of the plant pots and the green of the plants themselves. There seems to be something of a Japanese influence in the garden with areas of carefully raked stones in places, surrounded by bamboo plants. The garden also made good use of water, and the carp in the ponds again had a Japanese air for me. There is a restaurant in the gardens, but unfortunately they were having something of a laugh with the prices they were charging. We had a drink outside for less than half the price the gardens were charging. While I enjoyed the Jardin Majorelle, I couldn't but help thinking that the place had gotten a little over popular for its own good. If you venture out here, I suggest you try and avoid the crowds by arriving either early or late in the day.
by Slug on January 14, 2013
The main square in Marrakech, Jemaa el Fna is noisy, hot and rather smelly so it’s not really a place I like to linger too long although it has to be said it is a good place for people watching. To compromise, we usually spend one meal sitting in one of the terrace restaurants that line the square, and taking pot luck on our most recent visit we decided that Les Premices had our name on it.When we came here a decade or so ago there was a restaurant that served a sly bottle of larger on the upstairs terrace and it felt particularly illicit in this Muslim country and particularly pleasant in the mid day sun. Unfortunately a few months after we left Marrakech the restaurant was blown up. I'm not sure whether any alcohol is served in any of the bars on the square these days but we were certainly not offered any at Les Premices.Anyway, who needs alcohol when they offer a fine mint and lemon cocktail. We had a few of these in Jordan and completely loved the heady mix of mint, sugar and sour lemon. Unfortunately, these were not quite the same being dayglo green for a start and rather manufactured in taste. However, our fellow tourist diners congratulated me in my fortitude for finishing it off – it did have fresh mint in it but I dread to think what chemicals were also in the drink but I lived to tell another tale.The Les Premices has a kind of European cum Italian dining theme, and so I chose Pizza (Tuna and Onion) while my beloved chose a Tuna salad. The place wasn't particularly well furnished, but there was swirly metal back chairs which weren't the most comfortable and basic tables. The view across the market without ant hassle or worry about being run over was worth it. Our meal was really rather bland; I did conclude that Morocco was not the natural home of the pizza as the other pizza I sampled was also rather bland and devoid of herbs or garlic. However, the ingredients were good enough and I certainly wasn't poorly after eating it. At around £3.50 for the pizza it certainly didn't break the bank. Overall, I don't think you come to Les Premices for the food. However our meal was edible and cheap and we enjoyed just sitting above the busy main square. For this reason, the place just has to be recommended.
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