Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Every once in a while I visit a restaurant that makes even me, a gastronomic snob, feel humbled. Le Grande Table Marocaine is such a restaurant. Set within the grounds of the Royal Mansour hotel in Marrakech, Le Table Grande Marocaine is simply unequaled. I tell a lie, The Louis XV in Monoco probably holds that title. However, Le Grande Table Marocaine must fall within the top 5 restaurants in the world for pure opulence.
After sitting in the hotel courtyard for the better part of an entire afternoon, we were escorted to the restaurant, which rests within the grounds of the hotel, but is entirely separate from the hotel itself. A short, but breathtaking few seconds later we were shown our table. My wife and I have been to some very special, extremely posh restaurants in our lives but this takes the prize. Built by the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, Le Grande Table Marocaine is a visual tapestry of lavishness. Needless to say, we were both speechless for the first 10 minutes, while we took it all in: the sheer number of staff serving us, we counted 8 individuals, all with white gloves, the marble, the ornate tables and chairs, the plates with gold decoration and the giant windows illuminated by beautiful round gold and glass chandeliers. We sat in awe while we peaked at the menu, terrified of the prices. Well, I was anyway, as is customary at the world's best restaurants, the women are given menus with no prices.
As I sat there praying my wife didn't order anything with a price tag greater than 3 figures I suddenly realized that I was in Marrakech, one of the poorest places I have ever been. Where men whip and slap mules and donkeys through the narrow, filthy streets and beggars pretend to help you find your way and then hassle you for money. A place where the square is filled with tricksters and charlatans, pretending to lull Cobras and Rattlesnakes with melodic music. I would find out later that those snakes are de-fanged, or their venom glands are stripped from their bodies and no threat to man. That they die fairly quickly as they have no way of consuming their food.
This realization made it hard to continue with my dining experience. However, this epidemic is felt the world over. Dine at Le Gavroche in London and I guarantee that in less than a mile you'll see things that turn your stomach. The fact that it was on show, in such a visible way, somehow made it more real to me. And all of a sudden eating food in a restaurant built by the King, with a Princely price tag didn't really make any sense to me. But I was there and I would enjoy it and repent later. After all, they served brain, a cut we hardly eat anymore, and one I had been wanting to try for years.
But first, we were served Moroccan breads with butter, followed by a beautiful Amuse Bouche. To start, my wife had a Pigeon Pastilla, which was absolutely divine. Slow cooked Pigeon meat placed inside a Flaky, Sugary Filo Pastry. My starter was less prosaic, Lamb's Head, where the various cuts of meat on the head are delicately displaced then rolled and cooked. Although a lovely dish to try as the various meat textures kept my tastebuds guessing, it isn't a dish I would have for a Sunday Roast.
Main courses were exceptional and very unique. My wife had Lamb cooked for 36 hours and I had Lamb Brain in a Tomato Sauce. Before it was brought out to me the head chef came out to us and said, "Hello, I am the head chef. Are you enjoying your evening?" We responded and he followed that by saying, "I'm just checking that you did indeed order the Lamb's Brain. We don't get many Europeans or Americans ordering that." I said I did indeed order it and he said, "Good! That's nice to see. It is very nice today!" And it was! The texture is somewhere between Foie Gras and Mousse, with a lovely earthy, irony taste. I really enjoyed it.
Our mains were served with a 7 Vegetable Couscous, that was only rivaled by the Couscous served at Le Foundouk.
Dessert was not possible for either of us after our rich meal so we ended the evening with Petite Fours and Moroccan Mint Tea.
The bill for just the two of us came to nearly 4 figures with wine and we left feeling puzzled. And I'm not sure we'd go again. No, correction, we would not go again. It was a once in a lifetime experience and I'm happy we did it, but it just isn't worth going to again. Not when there are so many other restaurants to eat at in Marrakech.
So, my advice is; if you truly want to experience opulence and extravagance, or have enough money in your budget, visit the Royal Mansour and stay for dinner at Le Grande Table Marocaine. However, there are plenty of other restaurants that will impress you without you having to take out a second mortgage to cover the meal.
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