The French protectorate of Morocco lasted only 44 years, which is so brief in terms of the lifespan of this country. While it’s true many working in the hospitality industry will speak French and sometimes are French expatriates*, visitors shouldn’t assume everyone speaks French or that this is a “French” country as is sometimes said. All things being equal, it is fair to say there is a lot of French influence that still exists in the language and culture left behind.
*One of the riads in Marrakech preferred by Aussies In Morocco Tours™ is owned by a French couple who have been operating their riad for in excess of 15 years. If you meet them on one of our tours, ask them to tell you their interesting story. Incidentally, the food they serve – such as the little cakes with your welcome tea, the breakfast of orange-blossom scented yoghurt and cumin flavoured eggs – on the roof of the riad as you overlook the magnificent ancient medina, or the tasty and sociable evening meal, is lovely. (Don’t worry. Their English is fine).
During the protectorate Moroccan cities were reorganised and set up to separate the French and Europeans from the Moroccans. The medina areas of cities (including Marrakech) were for Moroccans and the “new cities” – new living and commercial districts – were for Europeans. Being aware of this will help you better understand how cities like Marrakech are divided. In Marrakech up-market neighbourhoods such as Gueliz and Hivernage were created with this design.
You don’t find a lot of examples of French inspiration inside the medina of Marrakech precisely for this reason. What you do find has mostly been created recently with the tourist market in mind. For example, there are very few places inside the medina that have alcohol licences to serve wine and other spirits, however outside the medina it is much easier.
It is also worth keeping in mind that while alcohol is available in Morocco it is heavily taxed. You will pay above the price you would in Europe or Australia for a drink. This isn’t a case of the restaurateur attempting to make a quick dirham, but rather the realities of what it costs to provide this to guests.
Now, let’s eat! You’ll find some great examples of French dining in Marrakech at these locations.
Bakeries and Patisseries
The longest and perhaps strongest culinary tie to France can be found in patisseries and bakeries. Morocco does have traditional desserts, however nothing that compares to the French style and this influence has remained.
Amandine – Tucked into a side street in Gueliz, this patisserie is one of the best in Marrakech for pastries and biscuits. They also offer brunch and lunch. While you can always take away items, they have a few tables inside for dining. Amandine flavours are always seasonal, and they only do patisserie (no breads). If you’d also like to try Moroccan biscuits, they offer these as well. Everything is delicious!
Amoud – A French bakery with branches across Morocco, this bakery is often cited as having the best croissants on the market (try the almond croissants!). Along with baked goods, pastries, and breads in the French style, Amoud also has Moroccan pastries.
Les Maîtres du Pain – You can find the flagship bakery in Gueliz, where you can choose from their gorgeous display cases or sit down and enjoy a coffee with your sweets. This patisserie not only has the standards, but also regional specialties like canelés from the Bordeaux region. It’s an excellent spot for breakfast too.
In Marrakech there are quite a few good French restaurants, however they are mid to higher level in price. Finding an inexpensive French option usually means a sandwich or salad in one of the suggested cafés.
Le Petit Cornichon – A modern, bistro restaurant with a rotating weekly menu serving lunch and dinner is what you’ll get when you reserve a table here. The food combines local produce and products with classic French techniques and dishes. Wine is available with your meal. The one downfall is that they do permit smoking inside, so if you are sensitive you may want to consider another option.
La Crêperie de Marrakech – Tucked off a main street in Gueliz, this little crepe shop is great for lunch or dinner. The crepes are authentic Breton crepes made with buckwheat. Both savoury and sweet crepes are available, and the offerings are both halal as well as with pork options.
Le Loft – Slide in for a delicious French bistro meal at Le Loft. Open for lunch and dinner daily. Snails, foie gras, terrines, duck breast, chicken cordon bleu, and many more dishes are waiting for your eating pleasure. The restaurant is divided to smoking (downstairs) and non-smoking (upstairs) areas.
L’Annexe – A simple restaurant that provides French bistro fare at a reasonable rate. It offers many dishes that are not found on menus elsewhere in the city like marrow on toast, tartare and great steaks.
La Table at the Royal Mansour – For a dining experience that may rival restaurants in France, this is the place to go. Yes, it will set you back, however the kitchen is headed by two top French chefs – Yannick Alleno (a 3-star Michelin chef) and Jérôme Videau. The majority of the menu is French, however they do have a few Moroccan dishes as well.
Grand Café de La Poste – If you want to feel as though you’ve stepped back into Marrakech of 1930, this is the place to go. While both inside and outdoor dining is available, the interior is what transports you. The menu is a French bistro style with a wide range of options including a few Moroccan classics as well. A simple croque monsieur to duck confit, and everything in between, is available.
In search of takeaway items or specific specialty items? These are a few of the places that may fit the bill.
Le Maître Fromager Meignat – For specialty cheeses, charcuterie and other artisanal food products, this is one of the best spots to look. They sell items by the weight for takeaway as well as offering specialty cheese plates and seasonal offerings like oysters. For those who are seeking some items for a picnic or long car trip, it’s a good stop to find imported as well as local specialties.
Jeff de Bruges – An international chocolate chain, Jeff de Bruges is one of the best spots in Marrakech to buy high quality chocolates. While it’s not particularly local, the French-owned chocolatier is where to go if you’d like a gift for someone or just crave a nibble of something delicious yourself.
68 Bar à Vin – A wine bar in Marrakech? Yes, absolutely! It’s a misconception that Morocco is a dry country and while you may need to put in a little more legwork to track down a drink, knowing where to go cuts that time in half. This is a small wine bar with a wide selection of over 200 different wines. With a menu of small bites, this is the perfect spot for a before dinner drink or late night gathering. Open from 5pm – 2am most nights.
Champion and Victoria Drink Stores – Alcohol is sold in most grocery stores, all of which are outside of the medina area. These two stores are specifically shops that sell a variety of alcohol.
Marché Central – A covered market, this spot is historically where the French and Europeans would go to do their shopping. Inside you’ll find flower shops, a horse butcher (yes, horse), pork vendors and access to imported fruits and vegetables that were once hard to find in Morocco but are becoming easier with time. It’s also a great spot to stop if you want to purchase flowers, either singly or in an arrangement.
It’s safe to say that a lot of cafés in Marrakech have a French influence or French feel, so this is just an example of three that are really wonderful places to relax and pass time.
16 Café – A restaurant and café rolled into one. Whether you just want to sip a drink or enjoy a full meal, you can do it here. This café has very nice indoor dining as well as outdoor seating on Marrakech Plaza. Great breakfast or brunch options and a wide range of hot and cold drinks make this an excellent daytime choice.
Bacha Coffee – Located inside the Dar el Bacha Museum of Confluences, this coffee shop shouldn’t be missed and is one of our personal favourites. Decorated in colonial style and with 200 different varieties of coffee, that can be served hot or cold, you will be spoilt for choice. A full menu is available as well as afternoon coffee with dozens of sweets and pastries. This is one of two spots on this list in the Marrakech medina and is one that should not be missed.
Maison Mignardise – A new café and restaurant in Gueliz, this spot is cosy and delicious. Enjoy a variety of drinks (their iced coffee is quite good) while trying to choose which pastry suits your fancy. As well as French pastries, they have a vast selection of Moroccan biscuits. Everything can be eaten onsite or taken away for nibbling later.
Café France – The food and drinks offered here are average, however from a historical point of view it’s significant. Café France was opened during the protectorate as the first (proper) coffee shop on Jemma el Fna and in some ways, you may think nothing has changed since. It’s great for people watching or seeing the sunset on the adjacent Kotoubia Mosque. Stick with a nous nous (half coffee/half milk) or espresso and save your appetite for elsewhere.
Once you have booked with Aussies in Morocco Tours™ your welcome pack will include a detailed map showing where all the places mentioned in this blog post are located.
Bon appétit encore une fois!
Published November 2020