When my niece, Emily, and her boyfriend, Andres, said they’d be visiting me in Marrakesh, I wanted a perfect place to take them for dinner our last night together. I sought somewhere signature Moroccan– mysterious, exotic, and beautiful. A place that practices hospitality and serves a mix of traditional and European delicious dishes. Pepe Nero, my new favorite restaurant in town, granted every wish and more.
Mysterious…The night began with the thrill of intrigue. Afraid I could never lead us through the medina, a medieval labyrinth of darkness, deserted streets, and closed shops at night, I was relieved that Chahid Essafa, truly a Customer Service Extraordinaire, said he’d send a guide to escort us. Excited, we waited in front of Café de France, mesmerized by the lanterns glowing across Jemaa el Fna square. Behind us a man in a black suit appeared.
He serenely introduced himself, turned, and led the way, shielding us from errant motorcyclists as we wound around corners and down solemn streets. Only our shadows and those of a few feral cats stretched up the red clay walls as we silently walked under lamp lights. Though our destination was less than ten minutes away, adrenaline flowed from the surreal setting and suspense of wondering behind which wall our journey would end.
And then Emily and Andres experienced what I love about this city. A desolate alleyway. A door swings open. Inside…paradise.
Beautiful…Carrara marble, cedar ceilings, and Moorish fountains transport guests to another time. We ate by the Andalusian pool flanked by flaming torches from a James Bond dream set. Trees reached for the moon—gorgeous that night—as we sat under stars. Bougainvillea draped from the second story balcony.
Exotic…Pepe Nero is the restaurant within Riyad Al Moussika, former palace of “Lord of the Atlas,” Pasha of Marrakech from 1912-1956. According to BBC, Thami El Giaoui at the time of his death “was the most powerful man in Morocco and one of the wealthiest men in the world.” Guests can rent one of six luxury suites overlooking the two lavish courtyards. Breakfast is served on the terrace rooftop overlooking the Atlas mountains.
Haute cuisine...Guests can choose from two menus—one Moroccan, one Italian–prepared by Mr. Khalid Essafa Robazza, Cordon Bleu Chef and owner. We three went with Moroccan because When in Rome… (and Emily and Andres had just come from there). We feasted on salads and Harira Soup (a tradition), then roasted leg of lamb, lamb tagine, and Pastilla di Piccione (pigeon pie–a local delicacy). The waiters were attentive, kind, and patient as we toured the riad, Emily and I tag-teaming behind the camera.
The food was so delicious, the dining experience so exceptional and the wine list so tempting, I returned the following week with my friend, Jasna, to try one dish off the Italian menu–lasagna that was the best I’ve had anywhere– so I could save room for dessert. As a Kentucky girl, I chose the Bourbon Vanilla Crème Brûlée with the crunch-cream topping–my new favorite dessert in all of Morocco. Pepe Nero provides complimentary cake for birthday parties. It’s a five-star dining experience at affordable prices, and I’m already looking forward to the next celebration.