The residential kitchen at Farmhouse Farasha
Eating Out

Moroccan gold

Enjoy some of the finest food ever eaten at the exquisite Farasha Farmhouse

This article is taken from the May 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

As an attribute, cool is a bit like charm. Anyone who thinks they possess it certainly doesn’t. Cool is elusive, slightly aloof, mercurial and fragile. It can’t be bestowed, whatever Time Out listicles tell you, and it is much easier defined by absence than presence. It’s appropriate then that Farasha Farmhouse outside Marrakech is named from the Arabic word for “butterfly”.

The former home of French artist Patrice Arnaud, the property was bought three years ago by Fred and Rosena Charmoy, whose Boutique Souk company has been organising exotic extravaganzas in and around the Red City for 20 years.

The working farm was restored, the house converted into a four-key hotel with six more rooms planned for next year. A stay there is essentially an invitation to the private house of the most glamorous people you know (we arrived in the middle of a fashion shoot; next day a hot air balloon landed unexpectedly in the garden, neither of which put the staff off their stroke).

Whilst the hectic lure of the medina is just half an hour away, Farasha’s owners have eschewed predictable Maghreb-antwackery in favour of a smooth, streamlined mid-century modern vibe, with Seventies sofas and sculptural installations by Moroccan artist Amine El Gotaibi, in keeping with a city which is enjoying a fresh cultural moment.

Rosena Charmoy describes the Farasha vibe as “dusty luxury”, which feels much more current than the atmosphere of Marrakech’s somewhat tired offerings. As many a disappointed tourist knows, a leathery tagine and a cheapo kaftan do not Talitha Getty make.

Whilst Marrakech is remaking itself as a contemporary art destination, where concept stores and the edgy galleries of the former industrial quarter of Sidi Ghanem are competing for attention with the old school attractions of the souks, it is also becoming a mass attraction, somewhat to the detriment of its restaurant scene.

Increasing popularity is reflected in opulence reduced to international room service as represented by La Mamounia at one end of the scale and foodie hype masking culinary clumsiness at the inexplicably exclusive Le Trou au Mur at the other.

Chef-in-residence Aniss Meski

Yet Farasha’s chef-in-residence, Casablanca native Aniss Meski, carries the owners’ twist on tradition triumphantly to the table, producing some of the best cooking I have tried in Morocco or anywhere else.

Farm-to-table has become an unbearable cliché, but it feels acceptable when the table is in the middle of the farm. Farasha produces its own olive oil from the 450 trees on the estate, you can hear the chickens clucking proudly as they produce your breakfast eggs, and the huge herb and vegetable gardens — which also produce the ingredients for Farasha’s thuriferous soaps and lotions — run right up to the fabulous 50-metre pool.

Different set menus are offered for lunch and dinner, alongside a lighter aperitivo option in the evening. I think the beautiful girl wearing a silver lamé tuxedo over a bikini, who ended up dancing on the next table to the late-night DJ, might have gone for that.

Meski’s food draws on his experience in Montreal, as well as French and Asian influences, built around updating and intensifying classic Moroccan flavours. Seven-hour roasted mechoui shimmies off the bone in a savoury gasp of fenugreek and cumin, chicken is deboned and poached with preserved lemon and a complex maquis of fresh herbs, and grilled Essaouira sardines crunch in a coat of chermoula, but more distant flavours — lemongrass, star anise — turn up as though they’ve always been there.

Seared beef fillet came in sturdy chunks with tomato-paprika butter and delicate little lamb chops with sheets of sorrelly leaves. Salmon tartare with black sesame and lime zest had us scraping the glaze off Rosa’s exquisite ceramic dishes, but the real stars are those exuberantly fresh farm vegetables.

You have to respect any man who could win a Michelin star with a turnip: at Farasha, golden baby navets came with bitter leaves and an unctuous sweet goat cheese reduction, razzling across the palate with a lack of decorum one would never expect from a tuber.

Shards of caramelised artichoke, roasted broccoli, rainbows of salads and edible flowers; each combination featured a standout ingredient in sauces or dressings so surprising they made even raw kale lively.

Moroccan puddings can sometimes be too sweet for European tastes, but again Meski produced deftness, restraint and imagination in a deep and fiery dark chocolate and chilli ice cream with a puddling cloud of airy pear mousse.

Then there were morning Berber pancakes with home-produced orange flower honey, shakshuka with bell peppers and strips of dried merguez, squodgy oven warm breads with Farasha hot sauce for dipping …

Wines are a mix of light French bottles and punchier Moroccan vintages and there’s an expert cocktail list for those inclined that way.

Perhaps it’s the piercing light bouncing down from the snows of the Atlas Mountains, maybe it’s the airy serenity of the farmhouse interiors, or the scent of the wood fires as the evening chill comes down on the desert.

Possibly that nothing feels rushed or cynical or anything less than first-rate. It’s definitely the food. But Farasha also has that indefinable something else, exquisite in the passing, unwise to pin down.

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