Lamb Tagia and Méchoui at Chez Lamine

If I could pick just one restaurant in Marrakech to return to and recommend to foodie friends, it would be Chez Lamine in the souk Ablouh Kessabine, just off Jemaa el Fnaa. Chez Lamine is the uncontested OG of Méchoui Alley, founded by the late N’guyer Haj Mustapha, revered for his quality-first approach to everything lamb and very visibly missed by the local community.

The restaurant is spread over multiple floors – a simple ground-floor dining area facing the street, a kind of mezzanine area decked out in floor-to-ceiling tile and a breezy covered rooftop with spectacular views over Jemaa el Fnaa, Rahba Kedima Square and my beloved Souk Semmarine, where olives of a billion different colors, shapes and sizes are piled high and sold together with preserved lemons and other pickles. The front entrance of Chez Lamine is decorated with clippings from newspaper and magazine articles about the restaurant, as well as old photos of Haj Mustapha with his fans (among them, Gordon Ramsey). But even before you arrive to the entrance, you know what’s going down here from what’s displayed on the wooden counter of the kind of island just in front of the restaurant: a collection of earthenware urns of various sizes and golden brown chunks of grilled lamb, sold by the kilo.

Chez Lamine sells a variety of Moroccan specialties: tagines, couscous, salads and grillled meat platters with chicken, beef, hearts and livers. But they specialize in three main dishes, all featuring lamb: méchoui beldi (grilled lamb), tangia marrakechia (lamb tangia) and tête de mouton (sheep’s head).

Our first time at Chez Lamine was for dinner on the third night of our trip. We sat in the ground-floor dining area, happy to have found a place that looked authentic enough instead of settling for one of the tourist restaurants in the riads facing Jemaa el Fnaa. By then, the grilled lamb bodies had been sold and tangia had become the star of the show, highly recommended by the guy serving us and exactly what we were both craving after a long day of cultural exploration up in the Atlas Mountains. We asked for one half-kilo tangia and the guy brought out a terracotta pot, pouring its steaming contents gingerly into a matching terra cotta bowl.

What a special dish… These urn-shaped earthenware cooking vessels are filled with lamb shank, a combination of oil and smen (a local fermented and salted butter, similar to ghee), loads of preserved lemon and garlic, some saffron, ground cumin, black pepper and just a splash of water. The mouth of each pot is covered in a sheet of wax paper, held in place by string, and the pots are nestled into the ashes of a farnatchi, the fire pit heating a local hammam. The dish is nicknamed bent r’mad or “daughter of ashes” because of this cooking method, but is also referred to as the “bachelor’s dish,” since it was traditionally prepared by men.

Slow cooking + lamb almost always leads to magic, but the tenderness of this confit lamb was truly memorable. The meat, combined with healthy bits of fat and catilage, was juicy and moist, slipping readily off the bone upon the gentlest agitation. It was savory, deep and layered in flavor. There was a touch of floral from the saffron and nutty from the cumin, the sweetness of the slow-cooked garlic and the tangy, saline funk of the preserved lemon balancing out the very mild irony taste of the lamb meat beautifully. After devouring the succulent meat, all the delicious sauce remained, perfect to soak up with fluffy khobz bread.

Two days later we went back for their méchoui. Every morning, the guys at Chez Lamine lower around 40 whole lamb carcasses (each certified for quality) into an underground wood-fired oven, where they slowly roast until lunchtime, for around 4 hours. They are then pulled back up, hacked into bits and and sold by weight with some roasted, ground cumin to sprinkle on. A half-kilo will cost you 90 dirham (8 euros) and a kilo 180 dirham (16 euros) – a fair deal and refreshingly transparent in a place where the price of anything is very rarely displayed, and where everything… and I mean everything… is available for haggling. We ordered a half-kilo and ascended to the rooftop terrace, where we found the perfect little table overlooking the surrounding souks.

Our meat arrived not long after, and was served with khobz bread and a ubiquitous side salad of tomatoes, onion, cucumber and briny black olives. The chunks of meat were sublime. There were big, beautiful mouthfuls of tender leg meat, some fatty and some leaner bits. There were also thin slices of extremely crispy, fabulously caramelized skin over a slick layer of sticky, smooth fat and some very soft meat – the perfect lamb chips. The roasted cumin salt added a perfect nutty, herby flavor to complement the mineral twang of the meat. We ate with our hands and finished licking our fingers clean, enjoying a nice Moroccan mint tea and the view before paying our bill and heading back to our riad.

If ever in Marrakech and in the mood for lamb done right, head to Chez Lamine in the medina. Between the vibey ambience of the rooftop at lunchtime, the fast and friendly service, and the delicious local cuisine, this place is an absolute must when visiting the Red City.

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