Henna Art Cafe
It takes no time to escape the crowds and noise of Djemaa el-Fna and then follow the huge blue sign in the metalworkers’ souk to the Zen oasis of this cafe. Behind the tiny door lies a health food diner that incorporates a gift shop, art gallery, roof terraces and a school for henna art where visitors can observe the artists and get a pattern painted on their hand. Run by a local Berber, Rachid Karkouch, and American artist, Lori Gordon, a traveller who ended up staying after a holiday, the cafe opened two years ago. Daily vegetarian and vegan specials include the likes of hummus soup and caramelised pumpkin, while meat-eaters can try the chicken gumbo or grilled turkey brochettes. They also supply fun straw sun hats when it gets too hot on the terrace.
• Mains from £2.50, Riad Zeitoun al Kdim, marrakechhennaartcafe.com
Watching the dyers work in the Souk des Teinturiers is one of the highlights of the medina, and the nearby Souk Talaa has an equally colourful selection of street-food stalls. One of the most popular is overseen by the smiling, bearded cook known to everyone as Monsieur Fromage. Just ask for him by name and the other stallholders should point you in the right direction. As with all great street-food locales there are just a couple of specialities at this miniscule eatery run by a family now in its third generation. Monsieur Fromage starts grilling bunches of five skewers of lamb kidneys at 10am, changing at midday to lamb chops. Both are served with hot flatbread and tea. Nothing more, nothing less, and by 2pm the stall has sold out and shuts up for the day.
• Portion of kidneys or chops £2, Souk Talaa
Around the corner from Monsieur Fromage, the tiny grill at Chez Hassan offers a host of different dishes: start of with a bowl of harira, Morocco’s famous tomato, chickpea, lemon and lentil soup, chunky skewers of turkey, fish and chicken sizzle on the charcoal embers, and rather than ordering tagine or couscous, try the speciality rate au viande hachee, lamb spleen stuffed with liver. Sounds scary but then so does haggis, and it tastes delicious. Although there are only a couple of tables inside, a narrow, winding staircase leads to a first-floor dining room and then up to a shady roof terrace.
• Main dishes from £2.30, Souk Talaa
In the heart of the medina, by the Marrakech Museum and a fruit and vegetable market, Bakchich is an institution that is popular with both locals and tourists. You can’t miss the cook with his bright red fez tending the tagines on a makeshift pavement cooker. With just a couple of tables at the back, this looks like a hole-in-the-wall diner, but as with so many medina locales you just have to start climbing stairs to reach a tiny rooftop terrace with drop-dead-gorgeous views. Stick to the speciality tagines: there are more than a dozen on the menu, from the speciality rabbit, meatball or fish to vegetarian with figs, apricots and almonds.
• Tagines from £1.50, Talaa 294, Ben Youssef, terrasse-bakchich.business.site
Just look for the crowds at lunchtime in Souk Ablouh, where half a dozen packed-out stalls form what is know as Méchoui Alley. This place is not for the squeamish but the reward is a plate of the most delicious méchoui(smoke-roasted lamb) you will ever taste. Chez Lamine has been here for more than a century and work begins each morning by lighting the wood in the underground oven. The fire is eventually extinguished and some 40 lamb carcasses are lowered to cook in the embers and smoke. One by one, they are hauled up at lunchtime, carved by the master butcher and served by weight on a piece of paper, eaten by hand with hunks of hot flatbread accompanied by a glass of scalding hot mint tea. Unforgettable.
• Mechoui £13 per kilo, a normal serving is around £3pp, Souk Ablouh 18
At the edge of the busy roundabout, by the renovated Mellah spice market in Marrakech’s old Jewish quarter, the rickety plastic tables and chairs of this thriving stall spread out across the pavement, while across the road, the faithful head into prayers at Sidi Hamed el Kamel mosque. This is Berber cooking at its best; a dozen tagines cooking away, with the cook keeping them moist by pouring water from a kettle every so often as if he were watering his plants. Pungent sardines and kofte skewers grill on burning charcoal and pots of beans and lentils bubble away. The Marrakech speciality is tangia, chicken or lamb slow-cooked for hours in an earthenware pot with saffron, garlic and preserved lemon, eaten with just a traditional flatbread rather than rice or potatoes.
• Chicken tangia £2, Riad Zeitoun al Kdim 2
Off the beaten track in the quiet Bab Taghzout neighbourhood, this charming Italian eatery is a real find, popular with locals and expats looking for cucina all’italiana alongside a modern, light interpretation of Moroccan cuisine, plus a good choice of vegetarian dishes. Adriano Pirani, an architect from Bologna, chose to renovate this beautiful riad as a restaurant rather than hotel, and the tiled courtyard of fountains, mosaics and lemon trees is perfect for a romantic alfresco dinner. Chef Valerio Arciona has clearly been influenced by local flavours, so try his tangy carrot veloute with ginger, powdered almonds and lemon zest, a classic seafood spaghetti using plump local clams or, for the brave, a juicy camel burger with orange-spiced onions.
• Mains £7.50, Dyour Saboun 40, Bab Taghzout, +212 05243 83030
You can’t miss Earth Cafe’s giant signpost in the noisy metalworkers’ souk pointing veggie enthusiasts down an alley to its funky psychedelic diner. Followers of the farm-to-table zero carbon-footprint philosophy, the cafe menu offers only vegetarian or vegan dishes, prepared in an open kitchen at the entrance. There’s an original take on traditional pastilla, with filo pastry filled with pumpkin, spinach and goat’s cheese, while homemade vermicelli noodles are topped with seasonal vegetables, garlic coconut, soy sauce and fresh herbs. Cooking classes are run by chef-founder Barakat Naim and there is an organic food and beauty shop selling everything from Moroccan argan oil for the kitchen to ghassoul, a mineral clay for body scrubs.
• Main dish £5.50, Derb Zouak 2, Riad Zeitoun al Kdim, on Facebook
Cafe Le Studio
There have been queues outside the Yves Saint Laurent museum since the day it opened in August 2017 and became an instant Marrakech must-see, alongside the incredible gardens of the adjoining Jardin Majorelle. There are few eating-out options in this residential neighbourhood but the museum has opened an organic cafe inspired by the fashion designer’s Paris workspace. The interior is decorated with Saint Laurent’s sketches, while outside bright yellow tables look out on a cool blue pool. This being YSL-inspired, the prices are on the high side but organic ingredients are used and an excellent couscous (beef, chicken or vegetarian) is prepared.
• Mains from £8.50, Musee Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech, Rue Yves Saint Laurent, +212 5242 98679, museeyslmarrakech.com
Le Petit Cornichon
Marrakech’s former French colonial quarter of Guéliz is a different world from the adjoining medieval medina, but while many of the restaurants here are upmarket, a new address opened last year proposing a “bistronomique” bargain lunch menu. Here, you can taste exciting interpretations of gourmet French cuisine from a talented young Moroccan chef, Manaf El Bloul, using local products, herbs and spices. At noon, an ever-changing menu offers dishes such as line-fished John Dory with grilled red peppers and courgettes, split pea soup with smoked sardines, beef carpaccio with cabbage and sesame, classic tuna tatami with quinoa or ombrina ceviche marinated in matcha tea with orange. Prices are higher at night and reservations are advisable.