Less than a decade ago, there were only a couple of restaurants in Fez offering more than the Moroccan standards. After all, most Fassis eat at home. But with an increasingly mobile population and with an increase in visitors wanting more than chicken and preserved lemon or lamb with prunes, has come the welcome addition of stylish restaurants like Maison Blanche and L’Italien. Now another joins their ranks...
The Azahar is part of the new Barceló Fes Medina Hotel. It is not, as the name would imply, actually in the Medina, but situated in a prime spot in the Ville Nouvelle at 53, Avenue Hassan II.
The hotel is one of a chain operated by the privately owned Spanish group Barceló Hotels & Resorts, controlling 185 hotels in 17 countries in four continents.
The Azahar is at the rear of the hotel, on Hassan II. I assume their signage is still to arrive, as the only thing that denotes it is a set of swinging glass doors.
Inside, the décor is designer chic, in red, black and pale green – international style with a nod to traditional Moroccan culture in the form of geometric divider screens. (A traditional form which lends itself perfectly to contemporary style.)
While the seating is comfortable and stylish, the music veers towards muzak – it aims to blend into the background rather than provide the soundtrack for a memorable evening. It ranges from jazz covers to inoffensive instrumentals to emotive Spanish pop songs.
However, the menu – in French and Spanish - is comprehensive, offering a selection of cold entrees (60-80 dhs), such as aubergine tart with smoked swordfish and basil oil, and hot entrees (50-75 dhs) including Moroccan dishes like chicken pastilla with almonds.
During pre-dinner drinks a couple of snacks appeared to whet the appetite; kebabs with a delicious savoury sauce and tortilla with tomato coulis and a balsamic reduction.
|Artichokes with goats cheese and a creamy saffron sauce|
For starters, I shared artichokes with goats cheese and a creamy saffron sauce with The View From Fez editor, and we were not disappointed. It was beautifully presented - a work of art in yellow and black. The fresh artichoke hearts, oven roasted with marinated tomatoes and black olives, was topped by mature goats cheese and proved an imaginative and unexpected combination.
Pasta dishes on offer (70-90 dh) include chicken pate with marinated vegetables, olive oil, wasabi and soy sauce, and tagliatelle with mixed seafood, olive oil and garlic.
However, we bypassed these for one of the fish courses (120–140 dh). While my partner chose a fillet of St Pierre, I selected the tranche of tuna, with orange sauce.
|Fillet of St Pierre|
Given the overall quality of the food, and the abundance of fresh produce in the local markets, it is a pity the meal was let down in such a way. Perhaps it was to fit in with local Moroccan cuisine, which tends to cook vegetables far more than we would in the West. But to prepare them in such a way destroys the flavours and does not suit the delicacy and care which went into the otherwise excellent meal.
Also on the menu were meat dishes (110-160 dh), which ranged from a fillet of beef with mushrooms, to traditional cous-cous with lamb, to a hamburger with egg and cheese.
The wine list was mainly Moroccan, (200-290 dh per bottle) with the usual suspects such as Sahari Reserve, both red and white, and Medillon. It also listed a couple of Spanish wines, such as the Antioni Barbadillo.
We had a S. Sirour Chardonnay, which was dry and full bodied without being overly oaked.
The verdict? Well presented, international style cuisine with a good menu range. However, those who value their vegetables will be disappointed. Despite this, it is reasonable value for money.
Review and photographs: Suzanna Clarke