It was hard to imagine waking up in Cambridge when by lunchtime, we were taking our battered old Peugeot properly off-road to La Mouette et Les Dromadaires (The Seagull and the Camels), a hidden cafe perched on a vast expanse of rocky beach south of Essaouria, Morocco. Exuding a romantic fusion of the French and the Maghreb, this felt more like the start of a Bond sequence than the beginning of a short weekend break.
La Mouette’s food is as rustic and fresh as the ever-blowing winds (the vents alizés) in this part of the world. We started off with some fragrant mint tea, olives and a mix of salads that looked decidedly French upon arriving to the table – the cafe’s owner is a French expat after all. But the Moroccan influences permeate, from the local argan oil making the dressing, the citrus tang of the carrot salad and the cumin seed with the celeriac. All on a backdrop of punchy, cloudy sweetness from the mint tea and some of the most perfect olives I’ve had.
The owner is a big lover of seafood, and gets in the local catch each morning, so a fish course was a must. The day’s special was turbot, which came fried/grilled in a healthy amount of butter along with potatoes, haricot, and aioli. French or Moroccan? Let’s just say you won’t get fish this fresh and delicious for a tenner in western Europe. Fresh oysters and ceviche also feature if you have the room.
We finished with thick black coffee and were off to the sea, feeling the 3 hour flight from London brought us a world away.
If you want to get away from it all, the laid-back town of Essaouira is far from the bustle of tourists and the package holiday trade - until recently the only way to get here was by three hour drive from Marrakech. You can get here more easily for a weekend break thanks to a new direct flight from London, but don't despair, Essaouira's airport still takes about 6 flights a week so this little oasis won't be disappearing just yet. More on Essaouira’s eats in posts to come, but for some fresh seafood and atmosphere – La Mouette is a find.