Dining fit for a King…
To call the Royal Mansour an ‘hotel’ is to create preconceptions for the visitor that threaten to undermine the true magic of the experience. One should go with an open mind.
Arriving at the commanding Moorish façade one could be forgiven for thinking that you’d simply arrived at the walls of the Medina itself, until on closer inspection the first hints of true craftsmanship appear.
Passing through the grand entrance, we’re transported into another world – one where opulence knows no bounds and no detail is too fine to have escaped attention.
Although only a few years since being built, the Royal Mansour is testament and tribute to crafts and skills long thought extinct – where, almost Pharoah-like the royal family of Marrakech have tasked literally thousands of skilled workers to create an edifice that must surely be a flagship of creativity in Africa. The overall impression is one of permanence and longevity, of a place built hundreds of years ago but remarkably preserved without a single mark to betray the passage of time.
Their legacy has now been entrusted to the five hundred staff who cater to the desires of the guests yet remain quietly unobtrusive. We’re only visiting in order to dine at the La Grande Table Marocaine, one of three restaurants here with their three Michelin-starred chef – but we can’t resist requesting a tour before taking our seats.
The Managing Director, Jean-Claude Messant, kindly assigns a manager to escort us and what follows is a mesmerising journey through some of the most beautiful craftsmanship in marble and wood that we’ve seen.
Its inspiring to know that these skills still exist as we whisk past whole walls of intricately carved plaster; complete floors of single vein marble, inlaid with finest detail; arcing ceilings of wrought metal ‘foliage’ or beautifully carved wood – a true showcase of creativity.
It would be easy to be overwhelmed or deterred by such ostentatiousness but in context it’s a magnificent temple to Moorish style.
We make our way to the bar for pre-dinner drinks and whilst we sip them we reflect on our brief visit into the Royal Mansour’s very private ‘Riads’, fifty three of which form individual two, three and four bedroom apartments over three floors; each with their own individual swimming pools and roof terraces, all enclosed within a Medina of private walkways and gardens.
it strikes us that this is not a place where visitors come to ‘be seen’ in the attention grabbing style of today’s celebrities but quite the reverse – it’s a place to disappear, to be private and reclusive, to escape, to spend precious time with someone special – to be free of intrusion and observation. There are few enough sanctuaries of this kind left.
We’re shown to our table and are happy to be guided by our waiters in our choices of what we should consider for the evening.
We elect for fresh clams with Moroccan pasta and garlic followed by shoulder of lamb, slow cooked over thirty-six hours and served with a pinch of cumin and salt and accompaniments of couscous with colourful vegetables.
Service is not hurried and we’re informed after a while that the clams are delaying matters as they are fresh and need to be prepared to order.
Interspersed with our chosen courses is a theatre of amuse bouche and the placing of cutlery, which if we had any comment to make we found a little intrusive as the slightly uncomfortable looking white jalabiya-clad staff waft back and forth like ephemeral ghosts, their white gloves attending to our every need.
Every luxury establishment has its own preferred performance in the conduct of dining protocol and we’re sure we’d be familiar with the Royal Mansour’s on a second visit as we sat quietly waiting for our napkins to be spread on our laps with a flourish, which never happened; whereas other embellishments of service were new to us. We’re told, elsewhere in Marrakech, that the training staff receive at Royal Mansour is exemplary at all levels; with, anecdotally, even their plumbers being instructed on the correct peeling of bananas!
This trivial digression should in no way detract from the experience and pleasure that dining at Royal Mansour bestows as the food itself is outstanding in quality preparation and taste.
Unexpectedly the dessert, again a recommendation from our waiter, was probably the best and most refreshing end to a meal we’ve ever had. Being on interminable diets, desserts are always tempting no-go areas but the orange jus over ‘bubbles’ (we never did get to the bottom of the ‘Alex’ seed bubbles that popped refreshingly in our mouths) dressed with a sprinkling of dates and cinnamon was the lightest most exquisite taste ever – we’d go back to Royal Mansour just for this!
And that really sums up Royal Mansour for us on this briefest of visits – like our dessert – magnificently, unexpectedly refreshing with a hint of mystery but an ultimately thoroughly enjoyable experience.
It’s certainly one not to be missed and definitely one to be repeated when next in Marrakech.
For more information, reservations and directions follow this link to the Royal Mansour in Marrakech