Ksar Essaoussan Restaurant, Marrakech

We’d read that this restaurant, which ranks in the top 20 of over 500 eateries in Marrakech, was rather difficult to find so I took a map as a precaution but actually didn’t need it at all; there was a large sign pointing off the main street that runs into the medina from Bab Laksour, then another directing us down an alley a few minutes later…

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…and finally an easily seen brass plaque on the impressive front door. If by chance you’re staying at a hotel and haven’t experienced these small alleyways whilst coming to and fro your Riad then you might be unnerved by the fact that the alleys look dusty and dark.  You’d be forgiven for thinking, how can such a fine restaurant be found in such a place! For those who are staying in a local Riad though, you’ll already understand that behind the wooden doors that line these alleys lay magnificent houses and the same is true of restaurants like Ksar Es Saoussan. Don’t let the alleyway fool you, once the door opens, you’ll enter a world of luxurious fine dining and understated, perfect service, and all for the price of a regular meal back in the UK or North America (the set menu was around £20 each).

We entered the restaurant via a atmospheric, candlelit corridor that was heavy with the smell of incense…

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…and were immediately invited by a waiter to tour the upper section of this old house before we sat down for dinner.

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The restaurant is on the ground floor, spreading outwards from the fountain that dominates the centre of the patio to the 4 alcoves that give off it.  Upstairs is a fine view over the patio and another well furnished room to look at. This is a great opportunity for photographers to see the inside of a luxury local town house, and take photos at their leisure.

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When we returned downstairs one of the waiters offered us water from a huge silver teapot in which to wash our hands. It’s worth highlighting that the staff at the Ksar Essaoussan were the most welcoming of all the Moroccan restaurants we visited in Marrakech, they had a genuine warmth that can’t be faked, and which we appreciated very much.

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Tables were placed on rugs which covered the tiled floor. On our table were chilly olives and salted peanuts to nibble on whilst we ordered and waited for bottled water and the house cocktail – included in the price of the meal – to arrive.

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The menu was in French but the waiters, who were all very gently spoken, could communicate in English and interpret the dishes for us. When the house cocktail arrived – a pulpy juice-based drink that you could take with alcohol or without – it had a refreshing, subtle sweetness and colours running from orange to mint green.

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The first course was a selection of Moroccan salads, presented on 8 silver platters and all served cold. We didn’t have to choose what we wanted, the selection was just brought to us and we took what we liked the look of.

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There was Tomato confit (sweet), Parsnips (firm enough to hold together on the fork), Cauliflower (with a hint of coriander), Green Peppers (our favourite; Lamia doesn’t usually doesn’t eat peppers because of how crunchy they are but she had seconds of these), Pumpkin Orange, Lentil (softly cooked with cumin), Courgette (citrusy) and Aubergine.

On their own each ingredient has it’s understated flavour and texture but there are a host of combinations to be invented according to your own tastes. It’s a pleasant experience to mix the dishes up slowly on your plate to find the best combo; my favourite was the orange pumpkin with the citrusy courgette and a spoonful of lentil.

For main course Lamia had the Chicken Pastille.

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“The pastry layer is crunchy and topped with cinnamon and icing sugar,” said Lamia. “It’s a slightly sweet, nutty and spicy dish with equal amounts of hard and soft texture; all in all a very good pastille. Chunks of chicken and almond pieces appear as you bite through the pastry.” Like all the food served at Ksar Essaoussan this was a traditional version of a pastille. Not a dish with any noticeable contemporary twist, just a solid Moroccan staple excellently cooked and presented.

I had the Chicken Tagine.

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Served piping hot and delicately spiced with citrus and olives, this was a huge piece of chicken! Hardly any bone at all, well cooked all the way through and delightful when mixed with the sauce.

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For our third course Lamia had the Orange and I the Pastille au lait .

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The orange, sprinkled with a touch of cinnamon, was a perfect choice after the Pastilla.

Equally good was my Pastille au lait – crispy flaky pastry topped with nuts and cinnamon and oozing with cool milk. You wouldn’t want this if your main course was a pastilla like Lamia had, in my opinion, but after my chicken it was excellent.

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Then we were served a selection of Moroccan desserts/biscuits which, like our salads, were presented on four silver platters, and Moroccan mint tea poured with panache.

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We took our time at this point. The restaurant is a romantic place, ideal for couples, and also perfect for photographers like us who enjoy trying to capture the beauty of such fine surroundings.

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All through the evening the service had been quietly attentive – as gentle as the tinkling central fountain – and our glasses were never empty unless we wished them to be. Now our hands were sprinkled with lemon and orange water and we were asked to wait a while longer, whilst the restaurant’s guide became available to show us back to the main road.

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The Ksar Essaoussan offered us a traditional evening that we’d recommend to everybody. Excellently cooked and presented food, well priced too (our 4 course meals cost the equivalent of just £20 each), delightful service and incredibly beautiful surroundings that will entertain any photographer or artist.

To discover more about Ksar Essaoussan, see their website at http://www.essaoussane.com/

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