Cafe Clock, Marrakech

A very visible rooftop sign directed us in from a relaxed part of Marrakech, and not a part that we’d have thought of going if it weren’t for the cafe as we weren’t staying there (there are a fair few Riads thereabouts but ours was near the main square, Jemma el Fna). It didn’t take us long to get there from the square though, about 25 minutes on foot (partly through the colourful spice markets of the Jewish Quarter) and the cafe itself was just 5 or 10  minutes south of the well known site of the Saadian Tombs.

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The entrance to the cafe, like many entrances here in Marrakech, is dusty and some would say shabby and not at all representative of what is awaiting you inside which is, in our opinion, a clean, welcoming venue for those wishing to enjoy tasty, well priced international-style food, good quality local art displays and to meet the people, Moroccan and otherwise, who are responsible for creating them. Photographers, painters, poets, musicians and storytellers, this is the place in Marrakech to see their work, hear them play or watch them recite in a safe, appreciative, no hassle environment.

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If you’ve experienced Cafe Clock in Fes then don’t worry, this branch in Marrakech is far friendlier. It’s also worth saying straight away that if you’re looking to get involved in the local art scene – perhaps you want to exhibit your work or showcase it in some way, or just meet up with other artists – then Cafe Clock is the fine place to do so in Marrakech. The white walls double up as gallery space for visual artists, there are regular jam nights for musicians and poets (see the website for their calender of events) and Melissa and the other staff are very enthusiastic about welcoming and including new creatives. Get in touch with them via email before you arrive in the city (they speak English as well as French and Arabic and were quick to respond to my email contact) and you might well find some great opportunities available for you here that’ll truly enhance your trip.

A side issue for travelling photographers is that the staff are all happy to pose for photos, so you can practice your portraits whilst you eat without the bad feeling or general hassle that usually accompanies making portraits of locals in Marrakech.

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There was due to be a storytelling performance at 7pm which we wanted to see so we arrived for an early dinner at 5.30. The cafe owner is a native English speaker and so is Melissa, who greeted us and led us upstairs to the shady rooftop terrace. The staff all spoke English as well as French and the customers were a mix of locals, expats and tourists so there was a real international feel to the place. Best of all you got the feel that there was a knowledge among the staff that consistency is essential in any restaurant; the customer needs to be sure that the review they read here or on Trip Advisor is in fact going to reflect what they’d experience themselves, and I definitely think the standards are such at Cafe Clock that this would be the case. Of course such things come at a cost. You can, as all the guidebooks will tell you, get a meal in downtown Marrakech for half the price that you can at Cafe Clock but chances are, in our experience, it’ll be tasteless, served in a rushed, unfriendly atmosphere and by the time the waiter overcharges you, well, you might end up paying near to what you will do here…

Seating was comfortable and the atmosphere relaxed. We could see the evening sun and a palm tree waving over the medina skyline from our table, also the kitchen where Cafe Clock offers cookery courses.

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We ordered drinks first. Lamia had the fresh mint lemonade – very cool and refreshing, just the thing to have upon arrival if you’ve been out sightseeing for a while and have a parched throat…

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…and I had the banana lassi, which was thick and very banana-y with chopped nuts on the surface, and served cool.

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For starters Lamia had the harira, shebbakiya and dates (vegetarian) with warm crispy bread on the side.

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“The harira soup has a pleasant tomato feel,” Lamia said. “The bits of noodle in it make it more hearty than other harira I’ve tasted and the herbs and spices are subtle; it’s earthy, filling and very satisfying. The chickpeas are softly cooked, perfect, and I’ve squeezed a hint of lemon over it which makes it all even better. The shebbakiya on the side is a thing of it’s own but if you had to compare it then it’s like a dense jelabi with a honey soaked shortcake centre. I’ve never tasted anything like it! Overall, this dish seems very representative of a more traditional Marrakech.”

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I had a starter of falafel, hummus and tabbouleh with quinoa (vegetarian).

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I loved it. The felafel was very dense and filling and not oily at all. Neither it nor the hummous had a strong, individual taste either which let the zingy (after I’d squeezed quarter of a lemon over it), light tabbouleh salad come through. The textures complimented each other well. This was altogether a lighter, fresher dish than the harira, it was also a delight to look at and photograph. A good choice for lunch on a summers day, I think, or a starter for an evening meal when you want to wake your taste buds up.

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For main Lamia had the herbed chicken sandwich with chermoula mayo and wedges.

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“The wedges are chunky and perfectly cooked, tender inside, crispy on the outside,” said Lamia. “It’s a solid sandwich with the fillings all being of an appropriate portion size. The chicken is chargrilled, lightly herbed, delicious really. We’ve been eating tagines for days and they were all really tasty but it’s great to eat this food here and have the choice of something closer to what I’d have back home. The harira was very Moroccan, but this sandwich is something far more western. If somebody has been on the road for a few weeks and has a yearning for home, this will hit the spot.”

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I had the vegetable b’stilla with taktouka (vegetarian).

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For those who don’t know what a b’stilla is, it can take many forms but here at Cafe Clock it’s kind of like a strudel, with flaky pastry and a mixture of savoury and sweet. Often I’ve eaten b’stilla with icing sugar on top and a chicken or pigeon and almond mix inside but this one is pure vegetarian and the tangy sweetness is added by the tomato topping and what seems like caramalised onion or aubergine. The pastry is crispy and light and it’s packed with vegetables; I really enjoyed it.

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For dessert Lamia had double chocolate cheesecake.

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“The base is firm and crunchy, and there’s ample choc chip. It’s an incredibly rich chocolate taste, lush…”

I ended up eating half of it as the portion size was huge. Both desserts were in fact large enough to share (even though we’re big eaters). I’d advise that if there are 2 of you eating then you start off by sharing a dessert and then take another if you need (service is quick, so you won’t have to wait more than 2 or 3 minutes if you need more).

I had the Clock choc, which was chocolate and vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, hot fudge sauce, choc chips and flaked almonds.

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It was truly excellent. Everything you want in a dessert.

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Really, the eating experience at Cafe Clock was very similar to the ‘Fresh’ restaurant chain in Toronto (which we also love) where the emphasis is on Good Food – meaning food that is healthy but which also taste great due to being made from quality ingredients and cooked by people who understand what they’re doing. An added bonus of Cafe Clock, of course, is that if you check the online calender before you visit you could get some top quality entertainment thrown in for free…

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The  storytelling performance began downstairs just after 7pm. 

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I’ve often wanted to hang around in the main square in Marrakech and listen to the storytellers – I can’t understand Arabic but the energy of their language was something I wanted to revel in – but have never done so, perhaps because I never felt relaxed enough in the intense environment that the square fosters. The Cafe Clock, however, provided a portal through which we could experience it. 

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Cafe Clock’s website has this to say about the storytelling…

“The Moroccan tradition of hikayat, or storytelling, dates back almost 1,000 years. Some stories were recorded and other stories are passed orally. Today this form of entertainment is in danger of becoming extinct. Previously, hikayat was found in cities throughout Morocco but today Marrakech’s Jema el-Fna’a square is one of the last place to find the old stories and there are fewer and fewer storytellers.  Cafe Clock offers a new venue and an opportunity for young Moroccans to train in this ancient art.

Master storyteller Ahmed Ezzarghani began collecting Morocco’s traditional fables during his youth as a traveling salesman. Selling coffee at souks, he joined the crowds gathering around storytellers until one day he had studied the craft long enough to tell the stories himself. 50 years later he is committed to passing Morocco’s oral tradition to the next generation. Today, Haj Ahmed trains a group of youth apprentices so that they may keep their rich Moroccan heritage alive.  

Every Thursday at 7 pm, Haj Ahmed and his apprentices perform tales in Arabic and in English. The apprentices are volunteers dedicated to traditional folklore and whom are working hard to improve their English with every story they weave.”

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The room was packed with an easy mix of locals and tourists and the five performers took turns in the spotlight, some speaking English, the others Arabic. One older man was clearly a master, the other his apprentices. I enjoyed the English speaking performers and when I couldn’t understand the others I could just enjoy the sound of the Arabic and the energy of the performance. The show lasted 2 hours in total, finishing with a poem recited in Arabic by a young lad from the USA who had a delightful and assured way of speaking…

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…and afterwards the performers circulated and chatted.

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Clock Café is an essential stop for anybody interested in the current art and entertainment scene in Marrakech. The food is excellent, healthy and well priced and by the look of their calendar, which you can find on their website, there’s a performance of some kind (music, poetry, storytelling and even cookery) most nights of the week. If you’re a performer or photographer it’ll be a very rewarding and welcoming space to perform or show your work in and if you just want to eat decent food in a chilled, friendly atmosphere you’d be hard pushed to find a better venue in Marrakech. We loved our visit there; it’ll be the first cafe we go to whenever we return to the city.

Discover more about Cafe Clock in Marrakech here - http://marrakech.cafeclock.com/

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