A Sunset Dinner at Nomad in Marrakesch

On the penultimate day of our week spent in Marrakech, we decided to have a “douchebag day,” our endearing term for the kind of program that brings together all the glitz & glamor of the city’s luxury travel scene. A day spent drinking frozé poolside at Nikki Beach to contrast with the tour of the slightly less fragrant tannery the day before, some cocktails to replace the mint tea we had with nearly every meal in town. After all, why not? That mess is just as much part of Morocco’s tourism offer as the museums, mosques and mountain tours. And we deserved a night out on the town, all dolled up in our Friday night best.

We never made it to Nikki Beach, as the comforts of our riad were just too great to resist that day. But we did venture out of the Medina, past the Koutoubia Mosque to the upscale Hivernage neighborhood, lined with luxury hotels, bars and clubs. We watched a fire performance at the lavishly decorated Palais Jad Mahal amidst 25 Jeroboam bottles of Dom Perignon with the capsule removed. We also gazed at belly dancers at Comptoir Darna, while enjoying cocktails that cost about the same as our total food expense of the trip. But before all that, we had the ultimate Marrakech influencer moment: a sunset dinner on the rooftop of Nomad restaurant.

 

Nomad was founded in 2014 as a modern Moroccan restaurant and rooftop terrace set over an old carpet store. The design evokes the aura of the 1950’s and early 1960’s, with a bohemian chic vibe that combines contemporary touches with traditional Moroccan influences. And it’s true that the view over the Rahba Lakdima spice square and the city’s minarets is fabulous, but that’s also true for the city’s many other rooftop restaurants…

It’s tough to get a reservation, because it’s a favorite among the expat community and highly recommended as a must-do in pretty much every travel magazine and blog. So we booked a few weeks in advance and arrived promptly at 7:30pm for a romantic sunset dinner for two. We ordered a couple of green juices (as there is no alcohol served here), along with appetizers, which came pretty quickly. Service was fine, if a bit aloof. But then again, a restaurant this popular does not need great service to keep its doors open.

To start, we ordered the zucchini fritters with garlic yoghurt. These were delightfully fluffy, held together by what I think were egg whites and sporting a nice caramelized crust, which crisped up for textural contrast against the smooth, soft interior. The tangy garlic yoghurt offered a nice touch of acidity.

We also got their sardine tart. Four filets of smoked sardine are laid flesh-down on a square-shaped slice of thin, slighty chewy, house-made pastry, which is also smeared with a piquand black olive tapenade and topped with a few slices of preserved lemon zest. The tart was served with a little salad of peppers, onions and apple, dressed with a nutty argan oil vinaigrette.

Ben got the Nomad Burger, which featured a well-seasoned lamb patty, a slice of smoked eggpant, some caramelized onions and kale between fluffy buns. The burger came with a side of sautéed potatoes, some harissa mayo and a little side salad. Apparently, the Nomad Burger has become a kind of icon dish of Marrakech, Instagrammed by many an influencer on the restaurant rooftop at sunset. I remember it being a little on the dry side and served at room temperature, but otherwise yeah, fine.

I got a kind of chicken tagine, which was “plated in a modern context” according to the menu. I guess this means served in a white bowl instead of in an earthenware bowl. Juicy chicken thighs were rubbed with a red chermoula marinade (made with smoky red paprika, probably some cumin and ras el hanout), along with potatoes, a few slices of tomato and olives. The ensemble was topped with preserved lemon rind and some fresh parsley. A nice enough dish, whose flavors reminded me of a Hungarian csirkepörkölt (cream-less cousin of the better known chirkepaprikás). The chicken was quite tender, the potatoes cooked through perfectly and everything was well-seasoned. I was just missing a bit of extra bread with which to sop up all the sauce. I think we asked for bread a few times, but it never came.

Nomad was fine, but it was just fine. The reputation preceding it tells the story of an unparalleled dining experience in a lush space with stellar service and inventive modern Moroccan cuisine. And simply said, this ain’t all that. The rooftop vibe and views were great, but that goes for pretty much every other restaurant in the medina. The service was okay too, but lacking the warmth we had felt from those who fed us during the rest of our trip. And the food was nothing memorable. A dry-ish lamb burger served lukewarm, some chicken and potatoes in a (albeit quite tasty) red sauce and two appetizers that didn’t say very much at all about the local cuisine… I checked reviews for this place dating back two or three years and they don’t seem to have changed their menu since they opened. At payment, a surprise 8% service fee left a sour taste in our mouths, not about the cost of the experience but about the lack of transparency.

Nomad did end up being our most expensive meal of the trip but was by far the least memorable. I understand the niche it has been designed to occupy and the need for this kind of restaurant in the Marrakech medina, but it just feels like they have been surfing the wave of their reputation for a while now. In a city with such a vibrant food scene and so much culinary tradition to discover, an overpriced lamb burger just seems like kind of a waste of a meal.

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