Certainly you will be dining at different places all around in Morocco but your experience may fall short of being magical unless you book yourself for a dinner plus show at the Chez Ali in Marrakech. The Fantasia, as it is popularly known as, is a long-standing must-have experience in Marrakech.
Situated just 20 minutes of drive away from Marrakech en route to Casablanca, the Chez Ali restaurant is situated on a vast area of land off the highway route 9. There will be plenty of travel agencies and hotels offering this as part of their excursion including transfers to and from the venue. Remember that if you are driving, you can always go there by yourself, or get a taxi to take you and bring you back. Its much quicker, convenient and you don’t have to wait for a big group.
Upon arrival there were gun-wielding Berber horsemen ready to give a formal welcome to the guests entering the magical location. Two girls were dressed up in traditional Berber costumes who were happy to pose along with incoming diners for taking some photos. Even before entering the premises, one could hear the tunes of Arabic tribal music in the chilly December night setting the right mood of what waited next. Then there was a make-shift Aladdin’s cave which was manned by a mysterious looking dwarf man. There was also a hall of fame highlighting many of the awards won by the restaurant and its founder. Imagine the kind of anticipation all these characters, the sound and the atmosphere created even before entering the main area. When you will step inside the main location you will see the massive colourful tents in a U-shape layout all arranged neatly with dining tables and colourful cutleries. Busy waiters and waitresses in traditional attires were seen very much engaged in decorating the cutleries and the arrangements for the guests of the evening. The rectangular sandy performance area in the middle of the location will give you the impression of an upcoming show which surely required a lot of space – and may be some real desert sand! We opted for the VIP option so we were escorted to a better looking tent with fewer people and were assigned a dedicated waiter who was at our service for the entire evening.
As soon as we took our seats under the beautifully coloured Berber tent, we were served with some traditional Moroccan Harira soup and bread. In the winter December night, that seemed like the warmest welcome we could receive. No sooner had we finished sipping off the last spoonful of soup, we were served with copious amount of dish one after another almost like a never-ending ritual. First it was the lamb mechwoui which could have easily been devoured by a happy group of twenty odd people but it was impatiently waiting to be tasted in front of a paltry party of two – us. We started nibbling the overwhelming amount of food but to our astonishment mixed with pleasure, we were then served with chicken couscous with a gracious amount of boiled vegetables adorning the garnish. Our eyes had already been saturated with the quantity of food which was simply just too much. However there was no denial of the fact that the culinary quality of the Moroccan dishes served was of superb level, in fine alignment with exotic atmosphere and reputation. After the main courses, our diligent waiter continued to bring in heaps of fruits and a small ocean of sweet dishes. All dishes were served infact on beautiful silverware which added to the glamour of the meal itself. While the diners were busy stuffing their stomachs, groups of tribal Moroccan performers were singing and swaying from table to table with their musical instruments. You would be requested politely to join them if you want for a few photos, if you do, some tips are expected. You can always politely refuse with a smile and they will happily move to another party. The dinner episode lasts from around 8pm till 10pm and then is the time for the performance which usually lasts for an hour or so.
In winter nights, it is advisable to carry very warm clothes and head gears as the performance is open air. Although we as VIP guests were placed with a raised and covered dais facing the performance area it is still better to be in warm clothes. Later what unfolded was the closest you could see of the melange between Cirque du Soleil and the Arabian Nights – the Morocco version. You will see the tribal Sultans rushing towards you on their horses and fire blank shots all at the same time on your honour! Some performers also show their horse-riding skills with remarkable bravery and skill. A belly dancer was also transported at one point in the midst and she braved the chill in the air to keep the spectators warm with her serpentine moves. There were also fireworks to light up the Marrakech nights to draw a curtain to our experience on an ecstatic note.
Fantasia at Chez Ali is that open air dining plus cultural experience that will give you a summary of what Morocco is all about in one dramatic evening. It is about the rich Berber traditions, its about bravery and skills, its about mystery and mystic, its about warm hospitality and its certainly about a lot of delicious food, especially couscous!