From the pavement outside, I teleported from the fashion capital’s Via Cadore to a street in the centre of Casablanca. The scene was set with cushions and couches on the veranda, a trickling water feature and glass lamps lining up to an ornate door; a clear indication that what awaited me inside was a whole new world – nothing that I had ever seen or experienced before and if I dare swing the door open, I wouldn’t want to forget it either…
Everything about this authentic setting stimulates the senses. The familiar aroma of incense fills the air and while my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, rich gold and stained glass lamps hanging from different levels within the triple volume space, transported my imagination to the folk tales of 1001 Arabian Nights. A glass stage above a sheet of water in the centre of the floor lead to ‘Riad Yacout’ illuminated in electric blue on the back mosaic wall which confirmed that I was at a one-of-a-kind restaurant and after-dinner venue.
A polite waiter offered me a seat at the lounge area near the entrance and served me a non-alcoholic ‘Sheherezade’ cocktail decorated with chunks of fresh fruit; just a tiny clue of the effort that goes into the preparation of all their dishes which span two delectable menus; Moroccan and Mediterranean, prepared by two separate chefs, Karim and Marco, in two separate kitchens. The wonderful thing though is that all the meat used is halaal so I can actually eat anything on the multi-course menu without having to second guess.
Popular dishes ordered include cous sous, lamb mechoui (roasted lamb) and for dessert, pastilla; a phyllo pastry dish with chantilly cream and strawberries.
The manager and director, Gaetano Bontempo, was simply fantastic, patiently guiding me throughout the three floors. We reached the Imperial Room, a VIP private area on the third floor via the see-through staircase; scary in a thrilling kind of way but from up here, you will get the best view of the belly dance spectacular and live band ‘Yacout Ensemble’ down below.
Gaetano mentioned that VIPs who book out this space can have the luxury of a private limousine drive from their hotel to the restaurant, use the private lift up and even have a dancer and chef who are exclusively at their service. It’s a relaxed, opulent set up with couches and sheer curtains where guests can smoke shisha and cigars, and during the winter, a fireplace creates a cosy atmosphere. Lay back here and you might just be sitting in the exact spot that Selena Gomez frequented when she attended Milan Fashion Week.
But just how was this little piece of Morocco established in Milan? Gaetano explained that the owner of the restaurant and the architect escaped to Morocco for one month about 12 years ago to soak up Moroccan culture, learning more about the ethnic cuisine and studying the decorative style and elements. They returned to Milan and worked tirelessly to unlock Riad Yacout in 2004. Every piece of furniture, right down to the wooden chairs and mosaic tiles, is imported from Morocco except the star-shaped stone detail on some of the walls which actually comes from Sorrento.
Being a belly dancer myself, I had to test the strength of the glass stage… And yes, it is a perfectly smooth surface to undulate, shimmy and do ‘figure of 8’ hip sways, but f you would rather watch a sultry dancer perform then book a table for any night of the week because entertainment starts at 9pm. From midnight, a DJ takes over from the live band and mixes it up with chart-topping tunes. Gaetano also suggests reserving a table for Wednesday night when Arab beats fuse with jazz music or Thursday night to decorate your hands with henna and have a gypsy tell your fortune.
I believe that the state of the restrooms at a restaurant are a reflection of the kitchen so to make sure that Riad Yacout deserved an 11 out of 10 rating, I had to run downstairs to check it out. I was pleasantly surprised to see that toilets are spotlessly clean and also beautifully decked out Moroccan style with ornate fittings and radiators too!
To book a table, email or call +39 02 546 2230
For more information, visit the Riad Yacout website