Friday, July 01, 2011

Eating Italian in Fez

Opening a new restaurant a month before Ramadan, in a part of Fez’s Ville Nouvelle that is undergoing a major redevelopment, would appear a challenging prospect. But for Restaurant L'italien, it is one that looks set to pay off. Suzanna Clarke reports.

The View From Fez had heard the buzz around town about this new venture. Among several glowing reports, a local restaurant connoisseur told us that he had eaten the best Italian food at Restaurant L'italien since visiting Italy. So we set off this week to try it for ourselves.

Located across the road from the former Champs de Courses, which will eventually become the new Fez city centre, Restaurant L'italien has a terrace out front, flanked by olive trees.

Inside the decor is, “New York industrial warehouse meets Swedish meets Italian,” according to co-owner Alejandro Ferrando. With a fit-out by Italian architect Vanessa Di Mino, the restaurant has a modern designer feel, with a blonde brick feature wall, Eames chairs and lights from Habitat, yet still retains an air of casual comfort.

Alejandro and co-owner Alvaro
The pizza preparation provides entertainment while you await your order. With a deft flick of the wrist, Brahim the “pizza DJ” skilfully makes and shapes dough into rounds, before coating them in a smooth circular motion with tomato sugo, cheese and the chosen topping. He then pops them into the wood fired oven. About twenty per cent of the restaurant’s pizza orders are for home deliveries and as custom grows they plan to increase the number of scooters.

Brahim - the pizza DJ
While we considered the menu, we munched on a pizza base sprinkled with salt and rosemary.
Although entrees included tempting choices like Insalata Caprese and Carpaccio and hot items like Minestrone soup, we went straight to the pasta and pizza sections. I opted for one of the most popular choices, Pizza L’Italien, with rocket, semi-dried tomatoes, mushrooms and truffle oil, as well as the staples of mozzarella, parmesan and tomato paste. It was delicious, with a light and crunchy base and very fresh ingredients.

My husband selected the Ravioli di Spinaci, which the menu simply states has ricotta and spinach. But the reality was much more. While the plump parcels of home made ravoli were filled with fresh spinach and ricotta, the dish was set off to perfection by the creamy sauce with Cepe mushrooms. The overall effect was melt-in-your-mouth.

We couldn't manage the meat or fish main courses, such as Cote de Boeuf a la Florentine or Gambas Grises a l’italienne, so they will have to wait until next time.

However, we did squeeze in dessert - Panacotta ai fruitti di bosco and a Tiramisu. Presented in glasses, the panacotta was richer and creamier than I have eaten before and was delightfully complemented by the tartness of the berry coulis.

My partner’s Tiramisu, however, lacked the usual bite of liquor which is usually part of the mix – a concession to Moroccan tastes. It still had the distinctive coffee flavour through the sponge biscuits, beneath the mascarpone, but the result was lighter and blander than usual.

Overall, we would highly recommend Restaurant L'italien. There is an obvious attention to detail at every level, both in the decor and the kitchen. The service was friendly and attentive without being intrusive. The team have worked hard to get things right and it shows. There is free Wi-Fi for the business types and they do great coffee as well. In the cooler months the front terrace is likely to be crowded.

Entrees range from 50 to 90 dh; pastas and risottos from 60 to 120 dh; meat and fish dishes from 90 to 150 dh and pizzas from 60 to 100 dh. Desserts are around the 40 dh mark.

Ferrando says that the aim was for the prices to be “democratic – good food should be for everyone”.

Restaurant L'italien is open from midday to midnight. It’s at Residence Longchamp, Av. Omar Ibn Khattab; just down from the corner of Av. du Pakistan, opposite the former Champs de Courses. Bookings and delivery: 05 35 943384.

Review & photographs: Suzanna Clarke


Helen Ranger said...

Well done, Alejandro! Will the restaurant be open during Ramadan?

falconhouse said...

I'd like to know more about the cheese. So-called mozzarella is offered in so many utterly deceptive concoctions. A good deal of it should not even be considered cheese. Plastic or some sort of goo?
This is an international scam that thrives more in third world places where few people know what the damned cheese is actually all about.
Call it corporate manipulation similar to/ the reverse of, fruit picked long before the sugars have ripened the flavors. One of the wonderfully positive things about life in Morocco, largely devoid of refrigeration.

Pizza is the ultimate poor man's meal, perhaps like harrira soup. It can be embellished in all sorts of creative ways, something done so very well in Rome. But one must accept the essentials of this simple and basic meal BEFORE starting the manipulations with "toppings" and trying to make a poor man's meal into a "gourmet" (i.e. pricey) event. So let's just hear about the cheese and maybe the basil.

What about basilica? Fresh basil. (habouk?) Real Mozzarella, good crust, olive oil, the tomatoes, fresh or/and paste: another area where corporate manipulation strives to control tomato taste reality. Who could ask for more, at least until you arrive in Roma where both scam and sophistication operate side by side.

Where are the water buffalo? My own experience at places like Marjane and Metro have been at least 50% negative. One buys a cheese, Moroccan made, claiming to be this or that but it often has no resemblance to what one expects from a cheese made in Holland, France or Italy. Why is it that a country with so many million goats and sheep utilize their milk so little? Anyone want to open a cheese factory with some standards?

Jearld, who cooks for himself, thsnk you!

Helen Ranger said...

I share your frustration, Jearld. It seems that milk in Morocco is largely used to make garishly-coloured, synthetically flavoured yoghurts full of sugar.
However, there is a good cheesemaker in Immouzer whose products are available in Fez: see our story here
No mozzarella though.

Anonymous said...

i was utterly disappointed when i went there about a month ago.

first of all stop mentioning parmesan everywhere in the menu when in fact it's "grana padano". sure the not-so developed taste buds won't sense a difference but at least they should be honest with what they offer.

we ordered tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms but what we've got instead were canned "champignons de paris". who do you think you are fooling?

no comment on the service, although they were doing their best to satisfy everybody, you could tell they didn't have a clue about what's really on the menu.

we ordered on two occasions linguine with pesto rosso and got twice liguine with regular green pesto, first time we sent back the plate to the kitchen and the second time we just shrugged off and ate it.

oh and you should never answer your customers with "well you know we all get stuffed when eating pasta" when they ask you about portion sizes.

unless invited i will definitely not go back to this place.

Suzanna Clarke said...

Given that when Anonymous visited, Restaurant L'italien would have barely opened its doors, the above comment lacks understanding of what is involved in a new venture in Fez.
The View from Fez held off doing a review of L'italien for the first few weeks, knowing they would be refining their menu and completing the training of the Moroccan staff in serving Italian food - a cuisine and language which many of them were unlikely to know well. Expecting the place, right from the start, to be like a top Italian restaurant in Rome or London, (where the waiters probably come from Italy), is unreasonable.
However, on the night the restaurant was reviewed, we found the service and food generally excellent. The ingredients were notable for their freshness. (Particularly the Cepe mushrooms.)
As for the issue of whether to call the cheese "parmesan" or "grana padano", "parmesan" is the generic name used in French and English speaking countries for that style of cheese. How many people unfamiliar with genuine Italian food would know the name "grana padano"?
Reviews are done within the context of what a restaurant, (or performance), aims to achieve. This restaurant aims to cater for the many, not just the select few with "developed" taste buds.

Driss F said...

LOL... I liked it a lot and I wouldn't know grandma mozzarella from grandad padano. It tasted great, was cheap and the mushrooms were fresh and delicious. My tastes budded!

Alice W said...

Very good review and photographs. We visited and had a wonderful meal. Thank you for sharing your inside knowledge on the blog. It has made our stay in Fez a pure delight.

Bratislava said...

Hi All,

Just to let you know it is reopenning tonight !!