Culinary exploration at the Ruined Gardens in Fez, Morocco
The Ruined Gardens restaurant had to be experienced simply because we felt an affinity with it given we run MyWeku Gardens and MyWeku Restaurant in Accra. There was also another reason. I had been only mildly impressed with the first garden I experienced in Morocco – the Yves St Laurent garden in Marrakesh.
After the long walk back from the Chouara tannery and experiencing the delights of nougat on our way back it seemed the most natural next step was to feed our famished selves. The Ruined Gardens happened to be a stone’s throw away from our riad – riad Amor. That said, it still took us about half an hour of getting lost in the old medina to finally finding it. It was tucked away as most places are in the old medina. It looked full inside so we opted to sit next to a small terraced area next to the kitchen. For a photographer it was certainly the best vantage point. I could also see who walked in and out.
The vibe was a little different to begin with. The staff seemed aloof and detached as is normally the case in a typical European high end restaurant. Fassi hospitality in Fez, we’ve come to know was incredibly overwhelming at times but not here. The clientele was almost entirely European so perhaps that had something to do with it. The Ruined Gardens reminded me of cafe clock, another European owned restaurant but but with lots more hospitability.
We ordered the kefta-meatball tagine with tomatoes sauce and eggs as well as the turkey tagine. Two kefta-meatball tagines were delivered instead in error. We had to share the kefta tagine whilst we waited for the turkey tagine to be made. I also ordered the date and orange blossom milk, which turned out to be the best drink I had had in Fez so far. The flavour was new to my palate and as I sipped it I could not help but think about how I could recreate this. Both the kefta-meatball and turkey tagines were superb.
The staff warmed up to us in the characteristically Moroccan way we were used to towards the end. One asked where we were from. Expect a lot of that in Fez! Ghana, came the answer which got him excited and animated as he told us a story about a “Tony Montana” in relation to Ghana. Up till today I still have no idea what that waiter was talking about.
Anyway, after a few more chit chats we left the Ruined Garden. Our experience started off slow but in the end we both knew we’d had arguably the most enticingly amazingly lunch in Fez here at the Ruined Gardens. Apparently Ruined Gardens Chef-gardener Robert Johnstone grows his own herbs and vegetables and smokes his own salmon. If you book ahead, they’ll arrange a Sephardic feast or a traditional mechoui: a 7 hour slow-roasted lamb for you.
What sets the Ruined Gardens apart,however, is the ambience of the space. It really is a Ruined Gardens in the middle of the old medina jungle of hard surfaces. It’s unpretentious and comes with more enchantment and charm than almost any restaurant I had visited. An incredibly clever idea to celebrate an old building in a way that actually puts it on the culinary map. The food is made with authentic Moroccan ingredients but with modern twists rather like Ikoyi of London, without the fine dining element