Easy to Find
On our recent trip to Morocco we stayed in two different riads, the second of which was in the Mouassine district of the old town. Just around the corner from our Riad was a restaurant called Bougainvilliers which was note-worthy for two reasons; firstly it served good cheap food and secondly it was a landmark on our route because it was the place where we had to turn to head towards the Jemaa el Fna via the souks. We ate at Bougainvilliers twice – once for a late lunch and once for dinner. Obviously we liked it or we wouldn't have gone back a second time.
Bougainvilliers is close to the Mouassine mosque in a district of old Marrakech which is to the north and slightly to the east of the Jemaa el Fna. It's just a few doors from a good foreign exchange office and there are plenty of small shops selling both food and souvenirs close by. Unlike many of the city's restaurants, it's not hard to find Bougainvilliers.
Pretty in Pink
Your first impressions are likely to be that the place is very pink. All of the chairs and sofas in the courtyard are upholsterd in bubble-gum pink mock ostrich leather. It sounds pretty extreme but in the bright light of a Marrakesh sunny day it's not as garish as you'd imagine because everything is so much brighter there. The large courtyard has a beautiful tiled fountain-wall overgrown with Bougainvillia and other climbing plants and large metal lamps are strung up above the courtyard though you'll only notice their dappled, filtered light when the sun goes down in the evening. There are also indoor eating areas that are not surprisingly also very pink and an upper roof terrace which nobody was using during either of our visits. Around the courtyard are several birdcages with canaries which chirped tunefully throughout the day and even though I loved the sound, I couldn't help but feel sad for them trapped in their cages. Throughout Bougainvilliers there are paintings by local artists which are offered for sale - as you'll notice in my photos, some of them (most of them) are pretty rubbish.
Ladies (and Gentleman) that Lunch
For lunch we grabbed a table with two pink sofas in a shady corner. The sofas were comfy if a bit sweaty in the mid day heat but the table was more like a coffee table so it meant you had to lean over to get to your food. The menu is small and simple with mostly salads, sandwiches, panninis, pizzas and the standard traditional dishes of couscous and tagine. We nibbled on the olives and bread basket whilst we decided what to have. Looking around we could see that the portions were going to be generous so we didn't mess around with starters and we probably shouldn't have eaten so much bread. To drink we ordered a couple of diet Cokes, a fat Coke and a cup of coffee.My sister Aileen ordered a Caprese salad (tomatoes and mozarella), her girlfriend Joyce asked for a cheese sandwich and hubby and I ordered panninis – his with goat cheese and vegetables and mine with prawns, cheese and roasted red peppers. Luckily we'd picked the only shaded table available so we weren't too frazzled by the time that the food arrived. Every dish was enormous and with the exception of the salad, came with a mound of chips. The cheese sandwich was made with three slices of toasted bread and had cheese on top as well as inside and each of the pannini dishes came with two round breads, about 10 cm in diameter. One would have been plenty and I did feel like a real pig for polishing off both. I blame a childhood of being told to eat up everything on my plate. Whilst the quality was good and the quantity enormous, I found it a bit bland because there was just too much melted cheese which rather swamped the taste of everything else. I find most Moroccan food rather dull so that was not big deal but a bit of chilli sauce or some herbs or even a dash of garlic could have lifted it out of the ordinary. Tony was more than happy with his goat cheese panninis (yes, I have a hubby who is addicted to stinky goat cheese) and by the time we'd finished there wasn't much left on any of the plates and nobody had space for pudding. Each of the main courses had been 50 Dirham and the drinks were 15 Dirhams on top – we each paid just over £5 for our lunches.
Low Dirham Dining
On our second to last night we'd had a big blow out meal at another local restaurant so we were in the mood for a bargain on the last night and went back to Bougainvilliers for dinner. I'd asked earlier if they were open in the evening and been told "Yes madame, until about 8.30 or 9 o'clock". I have to admit that when we rolled up to an empty restaurant just after 8 the waitress didn't look entirely pleased to see us and we wondered if she'd been hoping for an early night. As the sun set and the lights came on the place took on a different atmosphere from the day time and within half an hour the courtyard was almost full again. Knowing that people are always wary to enter an empty restaurant, we did wonder whether they'd have had any clients that evening if we'd not gone in first.
We'd learned our lessons about eating too much bread and so we avoided over stuffing ourselves when the waitress brought the bread basket. Tony and I ordered a trio of Moroccan salads to share as a starter and were surprised that there were four although admittedly one of them was so sweet and horrible (a type of sweet tomato 'jam') that we only ate three of them. One of the salads was aubergine dip, another was broad beans and the third was chunks of roasted courgette.
For main courses three of us ordered pizzas (four cheeses, margherita and seafood) and the fourth had kebab skewers. The pizzas were large, very cheesy but a bit like the panninis a few days earlier they didn't taste of all that much. Herbs, garlic, or a bit of spice could easily have raised the bar from ordinary to very tasty and I was a bit disappointed. The amount of prawns, calamari and tuna was good but something was definitely missing. The bill for four of us came to 320 Dirhams (about £25)
I didn't use the loos at the restaurant but everyone else did and proclaimed them to be very clean and Joyce reckoned they had the only toilet roll holder in Morocco (although it wasn't being used as such). I swear the three of them should have their own TV series as 'The Toilet Inspectors' as every place we go seems to get discussed and graded for its toilets and this one did well.
For hearty portions of good quality but slightly bland food, Bougainvilliers is hard to beat if you are staying in the Mouassine area. Keep in mind that almost ALL food in Morocco is pretty bland so an accusation of blandness is not particularly harsh. There's another restaurant just next door that looked to be about 4 times the price and the Cafe Arabe round the corner will set you back around £100 for dinner for four people so it's one of the best value options in the area. The setting is nice and the courtyard is a pleasant place to dine but it's worth bearing in mind that the restaurant doesn't serve alcohol.
Le Bougainvillier Cafe Restaurant
33, rue el Mouassine