Al-Ghil reviews restaurants in Med-Saidia

Al-Ghil is our resident roving restaurant reviewer. His views are his own. He is the self-appointed guardian of satisfying dining experiences in Med-Saidia. Given his girth, we do not argue with him. (He considers Mr Creosote an anorexic). His identity shall remain secret in order to uplift the standard of restaurants on the resort. Feel free to brave the restaurants who have not pleased his discerning palate - but consider yourself warned.

JOINT LEADERS OF THE PACK: Martina Bodega & Molinari TOTAL:24/30

AVOID: Monte Cristo TOTAL:0/30


Saturday 6th March - La Bodega - Consistently good

I've been to La Bodega many times, but have not reviewed it. How remiss of me!

It's a Spanish-style tapas bar that was one of the first venues to open in the marina. It has remained open throughout all the seasons, irrespective of weather. It tends to open at lunchtime, close mid-afternoon for a few hours and then re-open early evening and stay open until after midnight. It closes most of the day on Fridays, the Muslim holy day.

It is very popular with the elite of the region. Many business deals are concluded in La Bodega. Despite its grim, basic decor you 'll find most evenings an impressive collection of luxury German cars parked outside.

We arrived to meet some new friends this Saturday evening. All the patrons were sitting inside, watching an important game of football in Spain. Evening in the Winter there is an outside area that has an awning that provides shlter from the elements. We chose to sit 'outside' as inside was far too smoky for our liking. For non-smokers La Bodega is a bit of a lung-busting challenge.

Our waiter spoke a bit of English, was friendly and keen to serve us. We all ordered a local beer, which was promptly delivered. We did have concerns about being seated outside for fear of being neglected by the staff, but this was not the case at all.

Very soon after sitting down two small plates of potato salad appeared and proved very satisfying. As a tapas bar, the food was free and is provided as an accompaniment to our drinks which are far from free. Seen together, the offering provides good value-for-money.

Then a ration of sardines (or something very similar) was delivered to our table. These were too boney for my liking, but my table-companions had no problems with them. What meat there was on these was tasty. It would be an easy and cheap trick to make these free ratiosn very salty so as to drive the sale of drinks, but to its credit La Bodega does not do this.

More drinks were ordered and then plates of locally-caught sole were delivered. These are always fleshy (for sole) and appetising. The local stray cat (a fat one at that) enjoyed the tails of sole I dropped it.

Small plates with miniature calamari were the next instalment for us. These still had their hard shells in them, which are edible, but are not for everyone. These really are little morsels of snack food that perfectly accompany a drink and good company.

My assessment of this establishment is as follows.

The quality of the tapas portions (or 'rations') is excellent. The wine menu is impressive, but on the pricey side. The beers are good, cold and plentiful. These are reasonably priced when seen in conjunction with the 'free' food.

It is possible to ask for a menu and to have a main course. We did not do so on this visit, but in the past these have been of a good size and good quality at a fair price.

La Bodega is more of a 'drinkery' than an 'eatery', but it provides a necessary alternative dining experience on the resort. It consistently delivers what its customers expect. It is little surprise that it is so popular.

MENU:3 SERVICE:4 FOOD:4 ALCOHOL:5 DECOR:2 VALUE:3 TOTAL:21/30


Monday 1st March 2010 - The Dahlia - Good food, shame about the prices.

Some clients (whom we hope will become friends) and ourselves set off to see what The Dahlia could offer us for an evening meal. The restaurant is in the medina next to the marina and is on the marina-facing side. It has a downstairs section which is more of a tapas-type bar. Upstairs offers a full a la carte dining option, with alcohol available.

Upon arrival we were immediately greeted by the proprietor. He owns the establishment along with his three brothers, but he runs the house. He is a friendly, likeable chap who is eager to please. We ventured upstairs to find that we had the top floor to ourselves. It was only 7.30 pm and it was almost full downstairs and seems to be something of an after-work drinks venue. Not bad for early March, which is very different to how things were a year ago.

Upstairs is quite tastefully furnished and decorated. There is no garish over-the-top decoration as is so common with other restaurants trying to look more than what they are. The colours used are subdued and unobtrusive, while the furniture is functional and unremarkable.

A wine list eventually appeared and it wasn't too bad in selection. The prices, however, were somewhat eyebrow raising. Bottles of Moroccan wine on offer in the nearby supermarket (not on Fridays) for 50 Dirhams were priced here at 400 Dirhams. The men opted for local beers whilst the ladies found an affordable rose wine.

Without our prompting starters began to appear. First up was mashed asparagus in a tomato sauce. This was surprisingly tasty. This was followed by an appealing-looking tripe starter. Some of us indulged, some did not. Moroccan bread dipped in the sauce was very pleasant. The novices amongst us who indulged in the tripe voiced approval.

Next up, we were able to ask for a plate of chicken and a plate of lamb cutlets. These arrived with appetising accompanying sauces. The lamb and chicken were done to perfection.

Then the main course arrived. It was a mountain of couscous on a massive platter. There was enough to feed four more hungry people. For the uninitiated, couscous in Morocco is usually only available on Fridays. It takes half a day to properly prepare couscous.

The couscous mountain had placed on its sides a variety of steamed vegetables. In the centre of the conical top we found cuts of lamb nestled on top of a succulent boiled cabbage. A side dish with a type of Moroccan soup provided extra flavouring for those who wanted it.

For dessert all that was available was a selection of locally sourced fruits, which was expertly cut in to a finely presented platter. A pot of mint tea concluded the evening, which always works well in Moroccan restaurants.

My assessment of this dining establishment is as follows.

The food is excellent, better than almost all others in the near vicinity. The kitchen staff obviously know what they are doing and the presentation is given thought. Well done to them. The alcohol menu is adequate, but extortionately priced.

What detracted from the entire experience was the woefully inept waitresses who seemed at a total loss as to what to do. The restaurant has only been open for 3 months, they might have a clue by now. The owner himself was running around trying to find serving spoons and other such basics.

When the bill was requested this lead to consternation with the staff and when it arrived was illegible. The owner was summoned to translate his staff's scribblings. For the four of us the bill was 1250 Dirhams - a suspiciously round number.

Now if you are used to London prices, then this might not seem out of the ordinary. However, this is Morocco. We know what the ingredients cost. We know what staff get paid. We know what alcohol costs. We even have a fair idea what rent they are paying. We can easily find out what they spent on setting up the restaurant.

The Dahlia seems in a great haste to recoup its start up and operating costs. Only go there if you want above-average food and can afford to pay for it. There are better value for money options available.

MENU:3 SERVICE:1 FOOD:5 ALCOHOL:3 DECOR:3 VALUE:2 TOTAL:17/30


December 2009 - Goodfellas - A reasonable cheap eat

Some French friends suggested we try GoodFellas pizzeria amongst the row of restaurants in the marina. We thought it about time that we had a decent pizza again.

It was a rainy Sunday evening. We arrived at 7pm to find the restaurant deserted. A solitary waiter was on duty and a kitchen hand eventually appeared from the back room.

The decor of the restaurant is quite pleasant, obviously trying to achieve an American diner kind of ambiance, but not quite succeeding. The centrepiece is the large, unmissable bar that dominates the interior of the restaurant. When we asked what alcohol they could offer us, the reply came that they were still waiting for their alcohol licence.

An alcohol licence in Morocco is extremely difficult and expensive to acquire. The bureaucracy involved is soul-destroying, costs about 10,000 Euros and takes a year or more to secure.

So we ordered our carbonated soft drinks whilst we read the menu. We knew better and didn't bother, but let our friends get their hopes up by reading the menu.

When the impressively attendant waiter, who spoke a smattering of English, came to take our order, we all proceeded to dance the 'out-of-season menu dance'. He told us what they had on offer - chicken and fish tagines. No pizza tonight.

I ordered the fish soup starter which was adequate. Copious amounts of bread helped it on its way.

So we ordered our tagines and asked for chips to accompany them. In Morocco a plate of chips is somewhat regarded as a dish of its own and often other food will only follow once these are consumed. Our waiter understood (and delivered) our chips with our main courses.

The tagines proved to be excellent. The portions were good and the meats were done to perfection. Having a quiet restaurant to yourself does have its benefits. The kitchen staff are unhurried and are more likely to deliver a quality meal. Throughout our entire stay only one other couple came to the restaurant.

For dessert we could choose between some local fruit and creme caramel. I indulged in the latter. It was quite easily the best creme caramel I'd ever had in Morocco. A pleasant surprise.

My assessment of this dining establishment is as follows.

The menu out of season was poor, but in the Summer should be a good one. The waiter we had was excellent. Other waiters in the marina could learn a lot from him. The food was good. The lack of alcohol might be resolved in the coming year, but should not be a problem for its Muslim patrons. The prices were more in line with what you would expect to pay in a Third World country.

All round, a good family diner. Not much choice, but what they do, they do well and at a fair price. Worth visiting.

MENU:2 SERVICE:5 FOOD:4 ALCOHOL:0 DECOR:3 VALUE:4 TOTAL:18/30


October 2009 - Cesario - A good addition to the marina

We had been wanting pizza all day and decided to give the new pizzeria, Cesario, a try.

It was early Saturday evening and there were weekend visitors about when we arrived. There was still something of a holiday atmosphere in the air, what with Ramadan being over and Eid having been celebrated. It was still pleasantly warm as we sat down outside.

The waiting staff were somewhat reluctant to serve us and were bickering amonsgt themselves as to who should serve us. Given my size, I suppose they were afraid of having to work very hard to earn their tip. Eventually one young lady sauntered over to us.

She presented us with a menu and as we were parched, we immediately requested our favourite Moroccan soft drink. By the way, its called 'Hawaii' and has half the gas of other carbonated soft drinks and is like a watery fruit cocktail, but with a hint of gas - quite refreshing on a hot day.

Our waitress assured us that all items on the menu were on offer, which was a pleasant surprise. Then again, a pizza joint has a finite list of ingredients and its just a case of mixing and matching them.

When our pizzas arrived, we were surprised at how quick it was - much quicker than Pizza Express in the UK. Our pizzas were of a generous size and were perfectly cooked.

However, they only do thin base pizza, much to my chagrin. I like them fat and chewy. My quest continues.

I had the 'meat feast' which obviously came without any pork-based ingredients. It was good nevertheless and I'd gladly have it again.

My better half had the trusty 'Hawaian' pizza, which in Morocco, has the ham replaced by locally produced 'turkey ham', which looks like ham and almost tastes like ham, so it's a very able substitute. She was pleased by her choice of pizza.

The choice of desserts was unappealing to both of us, largely I suspect, because we weren't in the mood for any. We were adequately satiated - yes, even me.

My assessment of this dining establishment is as follows.

It's a pizza parlour with a good view over the marina. It's a great place just to relax and watch the world go by as you chew on the most fattening combination of food ingredients created by mankind. Forget about asking for alcohol, forget about having all the other options available in such eateries in Europe i.e. no tiramisu. This is simple dining, but done well.

It's the perfect place to have a cold drink and a quick pizza on a lazy Summery afternoon.

MENU:4 SERVICE:3 FOOD:4 ALCOHOL:0 DECOR:2 VALUE:4 TOTAL:17/30


Wednesday 16th of September - Molinari - A jewel discovered.

My partner and I had the good fortune to be invited to dinner in the Barcelo hotel by two guests residing there. Shortly after its opening the Barcelo hotel decided that only paying guests staying in the hotel were able to dine at any of its restaurants. For several months nobody could even get past the secuirty at the gate unless they could prove that they had a reservation for a room in the hotel.

At 8.30pm we entered the Molinari restaurant which specialises in Italian cuisine. To my surprise there were half a dozen people already seated at tables scattered about the restaurant. This was surprising to me because the hotel is scheduled to close at the end of the month and for the past week the occupancy level has plummetted. What was a full car park only a few weeks ago now only has a dozen vehicles in it.

A waiter appeared and confirmed our reservation. We were allowed to choose a table. The restaurant decor is elegant and tasteful. The seating consists of comfortable bench seats along the walls and sturdy chairs - essential if you weigh as much as I do. The restaurant is also very well lit, unlike so many other Moroccan eateries. The thing to remember about the Molinari restaurant at this stage is that it is part of the all-inclusive offering operated by this hotel. The menu does make mention of prices if you are not a guest. A three-course meal is priced at 240Dhs. This restaurant has proven very popular with guests and has required advance bookings, to the extent that at the height of the Summer it was necessary to book 3 nights in advance. Molinari at the Barcelo

The restaurant manager, a young Spaniard fluent in several languages (English included) came to take our order. We all opted for the classic composition of a starter, a mains and a dessert. Strangely a wine list was not to be seen. We were informed that we merely had to mention what we desired and it would be produced. We all asked for a glass of red wine, which turned out to be an adequate Moroccan red.

As a starter I had the cold seafood salad which was very cold indeed. It must have been sitting in a fridge or freezer for quite some time because it was impossible to discern any distinct flavours from its constituent parts - it had become an amorphous flavour. My partner and one of our hosts opted for the eggplant starter which turned out to be dry. One of hosts had the mozzarella cheese and tomato which proved adequate.

A host and I both selected the entrecote steak. She requested 'red' and indeed it was. I always play safe with steak and had mine 'medium'. I was very satisfied with what was delivered. It was a generous portion of meat prepared perfectly medium and accompanied by a sauteed potato and slice of sweet pumpkin. It came with a peppery green-pea sauce which suitably did not overwhelm the other flavours.

My partner had as her main course the John Dory fish dish. It was accompanied by a tartlet pastry and a piece of sweet potato. It was declared tasty, but small. Our other host had the fettucini with shrimps that seemed a good size portion. All the dishes were presented somewhat nouvelle cuisine i.e. oversized plates with decorative splashes of sauces around the food.

For dessert I had my favourite: tiramisu. Thankfully it was good as I was becoming concerned at how long it had been sitting in a fridge waiting for me. My partner enjoyed her rich chocolate tart whilst our hosts enjoyed their panna cotta. Strangely, we were not offered coffee. Presumably you are to ask for that in the lobby bar area?

By this time we were the only people left in the restaurant. The staff made no obvious effort to have us depart. We bade our farewells and left satisfied not only with our meals, but with the experience as a whole. The service was good and the presentation of the food was imaginative by Moroccan standards. The food itself was generally of a high standard. The only area requiring obvious improvement was the handling of the beverages.

It is a shame that this restaurant will be closed over the Winter months. It is a first-rate addition to the resort that other eateries should measure themselves against. We eagerly await its re-opening.

MENU:4 SERVICE:4 FOOD:5 ALCOHOL:3 DECOR:4 VALUE:4 TOTAL:24/30


Friday 4th of September - El Puerto - Ramadan is starting to bite.

My 2 companions and I were looking for venue for a small celebration. Undeterred by Ramadan, we set forth to see what was on offer in the Med-Saidia marina. We were badly disappointed.

It was 8.30pm and the only two venues open were O'Prado and El Puerto. Every other restaurant was closed. It is the custom for Muslims to break the fast after sunset and then to perform a few religious rituals. This all takes about an hour. After that people venture out to socialise. Restaurants only bother opening after 8.30pm because their staff also break the fast at 7.30pm

Being strangers in a strange land, we have to accept the way things are. Fair enough, its all part of the appeal and what makes Med-Saidia different. However, if this is ever to become a 5-star international resort, a few things will need to change on the restaurant scene.

O'Prado had their blaring disco-pop music so loud that it could be heard in Algeria. Our only option was El Puerto. El Puerto restaurant in the marina

When we arrived at 8.35pm there were a few scattered tables on the verandah occupied by people who were finishing their meals. There were no patrons inside.

A waiter promptly appeared with menus. Being seasoned hands compared to most, we ignored the menus and asked instead merely what was available. A copious menu was distilled down to chicken tagine and beef brochette. A plate of calamari was on offer too. We ordered one of each, to be accompanied by pommes frites and legumes.

Alcohol was available and one of my accomplices ordered a Syrah rose. It came with a hefty price tag. Glad to be having alcohol with our meal (in public nevertheless) we savoured this nectar. We could have made a better choice. Next time I think I will choose. We also ordered a bottle of water.

Our main courses arrived. The side orders arrived some time afterwards. I don't think that the kitchen was being rushed off their feet. Nobody had arrived after us.

The chicken tagine (Dh110) was apparently very good. I naughtily stole some of the sauce and it was pleasantly sweet. Sultanas and caramelised onions complimented the small chicken well. A good choice - to be recommended.

The beef brochette (Dh95) was perfectly done, but the portion was on the small side. It was accompanied by deep-fried potato balls and a smattering of mixed vegetables. An average choice.

The plate of calamari (Dh110) had 8 little calamari rings which were underdone. Not a good choice - avoid.

The usual accoutrements of bread and sauces just filled the space on the table and did not add much to the enjoyment of the meal. Upon the third reminder the bottle of water appeared, suitably chilled. We quaffed this slowly as there was only creme brulee available for dessert, something none of us found appealing.

It was a pleasantly warm evening and the water helped us kill time as we made small talk and hoped that the place would come to life. It didn't.

By 10.30pm we were the only people left in the restaurant. There was no prospect of other patrons arriving. Perhaps they knew what was on offer? No other restaurants had opened either.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this was during Ramadan. Not a time of frivolity. In summary, the menu was lacking, the wine list was good, the food mediocre and the service average. More than anything, we were grateful to be able to dine out although we were disappointed by the experience.

MENU:1 SERVICE:3 FOOD:3 ALCOHOL:4 DECOR:3 VALUE:3 TOTAL:17/30


Friday, 24th July 2009 - How hard can it be to find a decent restaurant at the height of Summer? Very.

It was a steamy Friday night and we were hungry. We were looking forward to trying some of the recently opened restaurants in the medina and marina. We set off excited at the prospect of Lebanese cuisine at O'Prado in the medina. When we got there at 7.35pm, we were told they were only opening at 8 or 9. When we asked which it was, 8 or 9, the reply was, "Perhaps at 9pm." We left.

We sauntered over to Monte Cristo, more optimistic. After all, it had been open for a few weeks, they should have sorted out their opening snags by now. We had heard from other educated palates that MonteCristo was hellishly expensive, the food was bland, the decor poor and the service lacking. Undaunted we thought we would see for ourselves. 7.40pm. Five staff standing around. We ask if they are open - they assure that they were. We ask to see a menu. A man seeming more senior in stature brusquely, irritatedly and rudely barked, "No, you can't see a menu" at us. We left having resolved to only frequent this establishment the day after hell had frozen over. MENU:0 SERVICE:0 FOOD:0 ALCOHOL:0 DECOR:0 VALUE:0 TOTAL:0/30

7.45pm. We arrive at Le Chandelier. Assured by the host that they were open, we chose a quiet table in the belief that we would have a fine dining experience. Le Chandelier had opened earlier in the week and its crisp clean and new white decor was refreshingly appealing. When presented with menus, we asked if all the menu was available or were only certain items available. (In Morocco, a restaurant might have a lavish menu, but what its suppliers could provide is another matter.) Our waiter-cum-host assured us that everything on the menu was available. We confidently perused the fine menu. Curried chicken with an assortment of exotic vegetables caught my hungry eye. Just then the waiter/host returned to inform us that no main courses were available - only the starters and desserts were possible. Guess what? We left. Could somebody have forgotten to have ordered food for the restaurant? Surely not. MENU:4 SERVICE:2 FOOD:0 ALCOHOL:0 DECOR:3 VALUE:0 TOTAL:9/30

7.50pm. We sit down at Martina Bodega. It is the new restaurant spawned from the bountiful profits of the tapas bar La Bodega next door. Assured by the manager that all that is advertised is on offer, we grumpily decide to try for a fourth time in less than 20 minutes to order a meal. Our elderly experienced waiter was the star of the evening. His limited grasp of the English language was charming. Hopefully he thought the same of our French and Arabiya. We ordered starters. My partner's salad was largely fresh out of a can, but pleasing nevertheless. My "crevettes pil pil" (shrimps in a hot garlic sauce) was excellent. It made my nose run, but I was happy for the experience. Martina Bodega serves alcohol and has a quite respectable wine list. My partner selected a Moroccan white wine and I a humble local beer. The wine arrived suitably chilled and with an ice-bucket, a rarity in this part of Morocco. My beer, a Casablanca, was just short of too cold (thus perfect) and came with a clean chilled unchipped glass. As our main course we chose the special of the evening, a locally caught fish, which the waiter assured us was large enough for two to share. Our waiter expertly sliced the meat off the fish which was well presented on a platter. It was indeed big enough for two. It was flavourful and succulent. The fish was accompanied by croquette potatoes and vegetables julienne. The portions were adequate, even for our famished selves. I simply had to sample their mousse au chocolat. It was superb, easily the best of its kind I have enjoyed in Morocco. The bill was slightly higher than we would have liked, but considered it well worth it. This was the satisfying dining experience we had hoped for. It succeeded in making up for the earlier abortive attempts of the evening. Martina Bodega restaurant will be a success. They adhere to a simple concept: they give people what they want. We look forward to returning. MENU:4 SERVICE:4 FOOD:4 ALCOHOL:5 DECOR:3 VALUE:4 TOTAL:24/30

Bon appetit

Al-Ghil