As we make our way from Bab Boujloud (the Blue Gate) down Talaa Kebira, the Fez medina’s main thoroughfare, we join a throbbing current of pedestrian traffic, locals and tourists jostling in both directions. A camel’s head serves as the signboard for a butcher, and chickens flutter atop their cages, awaiting their fate.
A slight stench from one of the city’s tanneries assaults us, to be replaced a few steps further along by the aroma of orange blossoms. A vendor polishes tea sets and smiles a “big welcome” as we pass.
The world’s largest car-free urban space wears its 1,300-year-history with dignity, a few tatters and a big heart.
This place takes time to appreciate, and few visitors stay very long.
Back to the future
Returning to Fez after an absence of several years, my husband and I are amazed at recent developments in the ancient cultural capital. Years of restoration efforts have returned numerous monuments to architectural glory, and there is a new vitality in the medieval heart of Morocco’s cultural and spiritual center.
New riads and restaurants sit cheek by jowl with open markets, shops, and craftsmen. Chefs have come to Fez to open restaurants that inject inventiveness into a once-staid food scene. Although it’s an open secret that the best Moroccan food comes from the kitchens of the country’s mothers and grandmothers, a clutch of boutique restaurants offers a worthwhile alternative to being invited to a Moroccan home for dinner. Fine dining in Fez is no longer an oxymoron.
We recently spent a month in Fez, where my taste buds got an update of the city’s top dining experiences.
Does eating well when you travel mean dipping into local culture and cuisine with confidence and safety? Enjoying a culinary diversion, and perhaps a taste of the familiar?
Here are my current favorite destinations for fine dining in Fez, whether splashing out for a special occasion or as a diversion from traditional Moroccan cuisine. These restaurants in the medina offer classic Moroccan dishes and eclectic fusion cuisine aimed at discriminating culinary travelers. All provide an escape from the pulsating rhythms of daily life here.
Eating well in Fez starts here
This restaurant in a meticulously restored traditional house is an elegant, intimate experience. Chef Younes Idrissi celebrates Mediterranean flavors with a three-course menu featuring high-quality local produce. Cocktails on the roof terrace, dinner before a fire. How fine!
A splendid garden setting, chalk-board daily menu and soft jazz in the background make for an inviting place to meet friends.
Moroccan-influenced Continental dishes from Chef Hicham Moufide and a short wine list keep this medina oasis local while catering to European tastes. Jardin des Biehn is also a good place to sample Moroccan classics, such as chicken tagine with preserved lemons, with wine.
This restaurant is full-on Thai, with nary a Moroccan selection on the menu. Dishes are authentically spiced with herbs from Thailand or Chef Anan Sorsutham’s private garden, incredibly fresh, and served in reassuring levels of heat. The chef also designs clothing, executed in Thai fabrics and Moroccan leather, which is on display in the ground-floor boutique. The flavor treats begin one very steep level up, with Anan in the kitchen and intimate seating for diners. The roof terrace offers splendid medina views, to be enjoyed with dinner and a glass of wine from the short wine list.
This chic restaurant pays eloquent homage to the homeland and coming-of-age of the dynamic Najat Kaanache. A Moroccan who grew up in San Sebastián, Spain, she worked around the world – including time at the famed El Bulli and in Mexico – before opening Nur. Chef Kaanache blends the spice cultures of her “two Souths.” The chef’s husband and partner Charles does the wine pairings and explains everything.
At Nur, a diner’s trust in Najat and Charles rewards with a terrific experience of original high-end dining.
This is the restaurant of a hotel built into the ruins of a courtyard house, with an outdoor kitchen and dining spaces surrounded by a lush sprawling garden in the heart of the medina.
Ruined Garden offers the chef-owners’ inventive take on Moroccan street food for lunch, and a more extensive dinner menu, including wine. The service can languish at busy times, but staff members are personable, and the wait is enjoyable in such a fanciful setting.
Time for fine dining in Fez!
You’ll need reservations to ensure dinner seatings at these establishments. Nur, Fez Café, Ruined Garden and Dar Roumana all provide a personal escort from medina hotels and riads to dinner and home again. Fez Café and Maison Moi Ana are well signposted from the principal medina thoroughfares.
The restaurant scene in Fez is burgeoning, and it’s an exciting time for a culinary visit to the medina. I hope these restaurants will become your favorites, too. When you travel to Morocco, give them a try, and let me know if you agree!
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- These choices for fine dining in Fez offer friendly service and personal attention, coupled with consideration for dietary restrictions.
- Food is well-prepared, using fresh local ingredients for both classical Moroccan fare and alternative choices.
- You can safely depart from the familiar by trying flavorful fusion dining.
- The Fez medina is a steeply pitched warren of narrow, often congested pedestrian streets. Until you are “Fez fit,” the hilly ups and downs can be daunting.
- Allow extra time for keeping appointments here. Taxis are useful for getting from one medina gate to another, but aren’t always available, especially in bad weather.
- It can be difficult to find your way, so ask for arrival instructions. If new to the medina, plan on getting lost at least once a day!
IF YOU GO
*All photo credits: Anita Breland and Tom Fakler
The authors were guests of Chef Najat Kaanache at Nur.
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