The Ruined Garden Restaurant, Fez

The Ruined Garden restaurant is part of the Riad Idrissy (the Idrissy isn’t sign posted from the main alleyway but the Ruined Garden is) set-up. We stayed in the Idrissy for one night and ate at the Ruined Garden as it was highly recommend online.

Robert, the owner from England and Sue, an Australian who helps him out, greeted us and showed us to a leafy, private alcove. The place felt relaxed and individual; a little bit of laid back Europe in an otherwise frequently uptight city. This wasn’t a place trying to live up to any particular traditional standards, only those set down by Robert, who believes in getting the food from garden fork to table fork in as fewer steps as possible and has worked in places such as The Ivy and The Wolseley in London. The garden and riad also felt international; the staff all speak English and French as well as Arabic and the soft voices of other customers hailed from all around the globe.

Looking out from our alcove we could enjoy the garden in which the restaurant is housed, all lush green centered around a tinkling central fountain and bordered on one side by the Riad Idrissy and two sides by exposed brick wall (the other side is the entrance, the outside of which gives little indication of the beauty of the garden within). The next photos were taken before our meal (lots of people were wandering around with cameras, its a photography friendly restaurant with plenty to made images of) and also the next morning, during breakfast.

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Cats prowled the undergrowth like jungle tigers, the rustling leaves announcing their approach.

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No music was playing as we ordered our main dishes. There was just the sound of the fountain, the soft conversations of other customers and the distant muffled busy-ness of the medina. Add to this the smells of chargrilled meat, candles smouldering, the lady of the night flowers blossoming and then the stars coming out above the banana leaves that hung above our table and we started to relax; we’d had a 12 hour journey that day involving a fair few changes of transport and it had taken it’s toll on our nerves. This was a perfect place to re-set our balance, chill out and get ready to take on the old medina of Fez the next day.

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Ok, now to the food. Freshly roasted almonds and olive selection were given to us alongside a handwritten menu.

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We started with a cherry bomb drink, a concoction invented by Robert with frozen puréed cherry at the bottom and fresh orange juice on top. The cherry started to melt and blend into the drink so that the drink changed it’s taste the longer you left it; I was interested in letting it dissolve completely so as to experience the full range of the drink but it was too nice to leave alone for long and I ended up scooping the frozen cherry out with the spoon way before it had melted.

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Then we had a mixed appetizer.

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There was goat cheese and fig, lightly spiced popcorn mabuka (fried mashed potato balls) with tomato dip, and a bean and pea salad. None of it came heavily spiced but salt and pepper was on the side to adjust to personal taste. The mabuka is street food in Fez; it was our favourite part of the starter and unlike anything I’ve eaten before. I could have done with more spice in all of the dishes but then I found I had that issue with much of the food in Morocco. Lamia felt the same as she was raised on spicy food and although I wasn’t, I do come from England where Indian food has been pretty much the national cuisine for the past 15 years. Some harissa paste on the side might have improved it, perhaps, but then again it may have hidden several of the more subtle flavours so maybe this is the best way to present the dish.

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For main, Lamia had a chargrilled chicken kebab. She said it smelt and tasted amazing, the veg slightly crunchy and the meat perfectly cooked yet still moist in places.

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I had the pumpkin, chickpea and saffron tagine. The saffron aroma sat under the stronger but less noticeable garlic and the vegetables were nicely cooked; the courgette had retained texture and not descended into a mush and the chickpeas still had bite. I was impressed; so often vegetarian dishes in Morocco are simply meat dishes with the meat taken out, but this was way different than that and clearly created to have the textures and tastes needed to become a complete and satisfying dish.

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For dessert Lamia had the chocolate mousse.

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“It’s SO decadent and rich,” she said. “Luxurious melt in your mouth chocolate, delicious. I’m going slow because I don’t want it to end! One of the best desserts I’ve had, ever.”

Lucky we were in a secluded table because it allowed me to get my finger in the cup and lick it clean after Lamia had finished with it, and I can attest to the fact that it was lovely. As was my own dessert, a saffron cream. Similar to a trifle, with puréed fruit topped by a thick layer of cream.

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The open nature of the restaurant, and indeed the rooms at the Riad Idrissy, means that this is a good place to come if you’re 30+ and want to either meet other people of the same situation (English speaker, reasonably well off) or be in the sort of relaxed, permissive environment that Robert, Sue and the staff encourage. That’s an easy enough atmosphere to find in our native cities of Toronto and London but in a country like Morocco it’s less prevalent and we welcomed it after a few weeks of the relatively hard-nosed interaction that is normal for much of Morocco. There’s also a very generous attitude towards other independent local businesses and Robert is happy to recommend or speak kindly about other restaurants or riads in the city of Fez, which is useful if you’re new in town and want to try out a few more good restaurants and avoid the bad.

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We recommend that you check the Ruined Garden out if you’re in Fez and like the idea of a no hassle, friendly, international style photo friendly restaurant set in an idyllic garden. They also do an excellent breakfast, one of the best we had during our Moroccan travels.

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And if you’re after a Riad, the Idrissy is very comfortable. Check out our review of it here.

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See the Ruined Garden website here - http://ruinedgarden.com/

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