Helene Darroze: A tale of three cities

We talk to the multi-award-winning French chef about her new restaurants in Marrakech, and the joy of exploring a new world of produce.

Updated on • Written By Pete Dreyer

Map view
Close map
Helene Darroze: A tale of three cities

With a packed trophy cabinet of awards in multiple countries, there’s no questioning Helene Darroze’s credentials. Few can boast the storied career that Darroze has had - six Michelin stars across three restaurants, countless personal awards, not to mention a Legion of Honour medal - the highest order of merit in France. Her eponymous London restaurant, Hélène Darroze at The Connaught, remains one of just nine restaurants in the UK to receive three Michelin stars - the highest honour, in an iconic London restaurant once run by the likes of Michel Bourdin and Angela Hartnett.


Some might be willing to rest on their laurels with their legacy firmly secured, but Darroze is not that sort of character. A fourth generation chef, born into a family restaurant in Villeneuve-de-Marsan in France, Darroze has climbed to the apex of the industry not just through immense, undeniable talent, but also graft, guts and hard work. For over a decade she has travelled between London and Paris weekly, overseeing restaurants in both cities, all whilst raising her two adopted daughters. So when The Royal Mansour came calling in 2022, looking for a chef capable of filling the shoes of legendary French chef Yannick Alleno, it was a project that the ever-ambitious Darroze couldn’t turn away.

‘The idea of working at The Royal Mansour was very exciting of course,’ she says. ‘I knew Yannick Alleno had been there before so I wanted to speak to him before I said yes, but I was excited to hear about the project, for sure.’

courtyard at the royal mansour

In the hotel world, there are luxury hotels, and then there are luxury hotels. Then, there’s the Royal Mansour. Built by Moroccan King Mohammed VI in 2010, over 1,500 local artisans spent years laying intricate zellij mosaics, hand-carving cedar doors and ceilings, and planting gardens of citrus and olive trees. There are no individual rooms at The Royal Mansour, only private, three-storey riads, which all boast sunlit courtyards, enormous bedrooms, dressing rooms, lounges, rooftops with private plunge pools and room service access on every floor. The 53 riads come together to form a towering recreation of the Ochre City’s famous medina over six acres of grounds, with so many meandering passageways that you’d struggle to explore the whole thing in a week. The hotel makes a big impression before you even arrive at its oasis-like entrance courtyard, with a gleaming golden Bentley that picks you up from the airport.

The Royal Mansour has always placed great importance on its food offering, so Darroze was a natural choice to replace Alleno as part of the hotel’s esteemed line-up. Now Darroze runs two restaurants inside the hotel: a luxurious French brasserie called La Grande Brasserie; and La Grande Table Marocaine - a famous, traditional Moroccan restaurant, recognised far and wide for its opulent interiors and lavish cooking.

'I want 90% of the produce we use in the restaurants to come from Morocco.’

‘La Grande Brasserie is not fine dining,’ she explains. ‘It should be relaxed and energetic. I want to bring back all the rituals of the brasserie - carving at the table, lots of tableside trolleys, things like that. As usual, I want the food to have a lot of emotion, and the service too.’ Under Helene’s watchful eye, La Grande Brasserie ticks over like a fine watch. The dining room is a place of constant movement, as trolleys glide smoothly between the tables. Though the atmosphere is relaxed, the menu is packed full of luxurious cooking - duck foie gras poached in red wine, blue lobster salad with ratte potatoes, a choice of three types of caviar, and a stunning sole Grenobloise cooked a la plancha.

For Helene, it’s important to show off Morocco’s incredible bounty of produce, albeit through the lens of classic French technique. ‘That’s not always easy,’ she remarks, ‘but fruit, vegetables, fish, it’s not a problem. For some meat it’s more challenging, but I want 90% of the produce we use in the restaurants to come from Morocco.’ The long Moroccan coast is home to some world-class fish and seafood - blue Lobsters from Oualidia, fish from Safi and scarlet prawns from Agadir, all of which fit neatly into Helene’s classic French menus.

lobster at la grande brasserie

Meanwhile, La Grande Table Marocaine is a different challenge entirely - Darroze has taken charge of one of the country’s most respected restaurants, with a long tradition of traditional Moroccan banqueting. Serving traditional Moroccan salads, saffron rice and clam tagine, Mechoui lamb shoulder, seafood pastilla and classic Moroccan sweets, it’s far-removed from her French background, despite the intertwined history of the two nations. Her eyes light up at the challenge though, and the prospect of getting to work with Moroccan ingredients. ‘La Grande Table Marocaine will be very challenging, but very exciting,’ she says. ‘There’s a big tradition in Morocco around food that is usually driven by women. That’s really interesting to me, so I’ve tried to learn a lot whilst I’ve been here.

‘I want to take this traditional way of cooking, respect the culture and the flavours, but also put a little bit of myself and my vision into it.’

grande table marocaine at royal mansour

Darroze isn’t the only one excited to be part of The Royal Mansour family; her daughters, now 14 and 16 respectively, often travel with her when she heads to Marrakech. ‘They’re so spoiled by The Royal Mansour whenever they’re here,’ she laughs. ‘They really fell in love with Morocco, so I try to travel when they’re on holidays. They love exploring the medina.

We ask if either of them has shown any interest in following her into the kitchen, and she shakes her head. ‘Not for the moment! One loves fashion, she’s recently staged at Chanel. She’s always wanted to work in fashion. The other, she’s an artist but she’s very good at maths, and she writes very well. She has a lot of talent but she’s not sure what she wants to do yet.’

Following Yannick Alleno as part of The Royal Mansour chef brigade was always going to be difficult, but Darroze brings similar energy and meticulous precision to the restaurants, alongside an exciting new format that seems destined to maintain the hotel’s place as a best-in-class food destination. Exceptional food, peerless service and palatial opulence at every turn, Darroze might be just the person to bring The Royal Mansour to rarified new heights - good news for her daughters, who can look forward to lots more holidays in sunny Marrakech.

Want restaurant recommendations from the best chefs in the business? Check out a few of our chef restaurants guides from the likes of Theo Randall, Roberta Hall-McCarron and Jeremy Lee. You can read more interviews in our Chef Interview section

Join SquareMeal Rewards

Collect points, worth at least £1, every time you book online and dine at a participating restaurant.

Start Collecting Points

Already a member? Sign in