Just after sunset, lights twinkle on in houses across the way, as the sun sets behind the ruins of Volubilis in the distance. The corridor leading into one of Morocco’s holiest places, the tomb of Moulay Idriss, fairly glowed. I couldn’t exactly make out the Roman arches of Volubilis four kilometers distant, but I knew they were there. The view from the terraces at Scorpion House is magical at any time of day, but an early evening in Moulay is something special. On our first visit, Tom and I were there to check out a private dining venue in a little city just coming into its own as a traveler’s destination. We recently returned for an update—and another taste—this time at mid-day.
Why Scorpion House?
Back in 2011, my first question—after I’d admired the view—Why Scorpion House? What does it mean? In Egypt and Tibet, the scorpion is seen as an omen and made into an amulet to signify protection and ward off evil. In Africa, the scorpion is also seen as a healer, its venomous oil used for medicinal purposes. Owner Mike Richardson’s answer was more prosaic: “There are scorpions in the scrubland around Moulay Idriss, and it’s a bit mysterious symbolically.” I took this to mean “Why not?”
Classy, rustic design
An inveterate collector, Mike is locally famous for snapping up every vintage chair in Morocco’s medinas to furnish the now well-established Café Clock restaurants in Fez and Marrakech (and coming soon, Chefchouen). True to form, Scorpion House showcases Mike’s penchant for spotting quirky quality in the Moulay souks as well.
Locally made hats, re-purposed as stylish sconces for low-energy lights, fit right in alongside more exotic—and Romi (that’s Moroccan modern)—design elements, and art finds from Mike’s travels around the world. Seeing how Mike has furnished Scorpion House made me want to head straight for the nearest souk and seek what I might find there.
Tasting Morocco in style
Since its inception, Scorpion House has served as a specialty venue for tastings, cooking demonstrations and private dining. The famed olive groves and vineyards of Meknes are just minutes away. Guests can sample the products of both, with a stop here while on specialty tours of the region. Nowadays, the emphasis is on private dining, with guests entertained around the fireplace or on one of the terraces with a panoramic view.
The experience starts with the setting: an unbeatable location high above Moulay Idriss, with a view that stretches for kilometers in several directions. It’s a climb up narrow medina streets that are more staircases than walkways, but the views make the effort worthwhile. Streets lead up, up and up, ending at Scorpion House’s front door. Inside, there are more stairs, linking inviting rooms and terraces in a way that encourages exploration of every nook and cranny.
Menus made to order
Our personalized menu featured innovative variations on a Moroccan theme that has been well honed at Café Clock over a decade of pleasing both Moroccan and international diners. The variety of salads and light dishes on our bespoke menu was a pleasure to behold: Who wouldn’t be tempted by dishes such as a salad of Beetroot, Orange & Jben cheese or Orange and Almond Sephardic Cake? By the time our lunch began to arrive for tapas-style serving on Moroccan small plates, appetites were well and truly whetted. I’ve been seeing piles of broad beans and sacks of freshly shelled peas in the vegetable souk at R’cif in Fez this spring and was eager to see what Mike’s team had conjured up for our luncheon. Every item on the menu was prepared with individuality and class, and Tom and I were soon competing for the last tasty bites of the little dishes.
An array of cooked and fresh salads is par for the course at any Moroccan feast. Happily, the accompaniments at Scorpion House took the traditional up a notch, combining seasonal goodies such as avocados and artichokes in unexpected ways. Even the familiar courgette (zucchini) got the Scorpion House treatment, jazzed up with mint. Zaalouk, a cooked eggplant and tomato salad and Moroccan mainstay, was reassuring in its familiarity, smoky and with a dash of cumin. The mains were light: Chermoula Sardines, vegetable pastille rolls, and miniature kefta kebabs cooked on the charcoal-fired grill. Every bite of this meal was a treat, one I’m eager to repeat when we try again for a sunny day in Moulay Idriss.
As the first non-Moroccan to buy property in Moulay Idriss Zerhoun, Mike Richardson, energetic creator of restaurants in the much-visited Fez and Marrakech medinas, might have had qualms. But, he assured us, the locals welcomed him to town. The original Café Clock in Fez began as something of a whim and quickly evolved from a restoration project into a must-do stop on the tourist circuit. Now, Scorpion House has set a new standard for specialty dining in one of Morocco’s most atmospheric places.
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Thanks to Mike Richardson and Scorpion House for hosting our visit and treating us to a marvelous private dining experience!