Momo, the Berber restaurant on Heddon Street in Mayfair, is 22 this 12 months and has been overhauled and relaunched to mark the event. In 1997, this becomes the area that, beyond doubt, set my eye on turning into a restaurant critic, as soon as the vintage protect started expiring from gout. I spent sixty-five minutes there one night, lower back whilst it became one of the very coolest places to be visible – apart from the top bar at TFI Friday or doing backing vocals for Finley Quaye on Westbourne Grove.
Momo, because the freshest eating place in London, turned into an ideal, galling instance of ways locations treated their famous, in-crowd guests, instead of ordinary diners who weren’t in Donatella Versace’s retinue. It became definitely a completely pretty room – a sort of faux-Marrakesh, enchanted souk – and these days it’s largely the equal, simply even better, whole with a golden, hand-painted dome center stage, art‑deco sofas, illuminated palm bushes and flattering, peach-hued lighting.
Back then, the menu changed into a thrust into our arms by using a semi-belligerent server with a reminder that our desk, booked months in advance, could quickly need vacating. Couscous turned into whisked away mid-mouthful via a team of workers who had one eye on the door in case Patsy Kensit’s hair stylist required emergency shisha recommendation. An attempt to go to the downstairs women’ room has become a safety problem, incurring warnings that I ought to not try and burst off-piste and input the cocktail bar, favored by way of Tom Cruise because it wasn’t for the likes of you and me. The bill became £forty six for 2 glasses of heat pinot grigio and two tagines. It says extra approximately me than Momo that I’ve simmered on this for 21 years.
A fulfilling denouement would have been that I returned to study the new Momo one latest Saturday night to find a roaring bin hearth of wrongness. Instead, it turned into unexpected pleasure. The front of the house is now a smiling squadron who fuss over the whole clients, which may additionally not be A-listing, however the West End crowd of moneyed travelers, well-heeled Essex birthday events, fourth dates edging towards dedication, “Instagram fashions” and people with thrilling facial resculpturing. Under Mourad Mazouz (the man at the back of Sketch), Momo has really weathered the storms of being cool, then uncool, then totally irrelevant, before being shabby, stripped and rebooted.
It has clearly got over itself. The new menu, created by means of chef Hervé Deville, continues to be a slightly eccentric mishmash of Algerian, Tunisian and Moroccan, but now with the modern-day Mediterranean or, extra as it should be, British thrives. Yes, there may be chook couscous and lamb shoulder tagine and scotch pork tangia with green olive passes (a form of chickpea fritter). The “traditional Momo couscous” comes with a small platter of lamb cutlet, spiced fowl thigh, and merguez, for £26. It arrived with exceptional fanfare and a clattering of crockery, became as watery as I recalled, and, with the aid of and big, a bit style over substance.
The dish that melted my coronary heart and righted many years of hurt, however, changed into harira, a velvety, highly spiced, dal-like Moroccan soup brimming with cinnamon, turmeric, and ginger. It grew to become up with spoons of clarified lemon paste and harissa so warm, it may blow your (new, tighter) face off. Quail pastilla was extremely good, too: a delicate, wealthy, sweet Moroccan filo pie, as sugary because it became savory, with nougatine pieces and an amazing, blackcurrant sauce. For vegetarians, there’s inexperienced asparagus tagine with spiced rhubarb or history beetroot couscous, and I shall by no means overlook the frankly weird teff “pancake”. It changed into a bit like injera flatbread, however additionally a chunk like a chocolate swiss roll, albeit one included in boiled brussels sprouts and chunks of jersey royal, and came with a jug of green harissa bouillon.
Momo is still noisy, blaring out the sort of dance music that to older ears may experience like being attacked by way of bees. But if you had been enjoyable buddies, it would be a conflict for anybody to find Momo “boring”. It’s a colorful area, complete of diners who don’t take themselves very severely, posing for the circle of relatives organization pictures and singing glad birthday. The meals are first-class, too, and you can’t say fairer than that. Puddings are well worth sticking round for. A plain-sounding riz au lait become likely the greatest rice pudding I’ve had on this lifetime, served with confit grapefruit and coriander, which need to be a culinary car crash, but isn’t. Be warned, although: the chocolate namelaka has a wealthy bed of diced beetroot and warm harissa mendacity underneath its cocoa crumble topping. Always order one pudding for the desk that divides opinion, because that manner there’s a strong threat you’ll get to consume double.
So I’ve decided graciously to forgive Momo. The negative things. They scared me off for 20-odd years. They gained’t be as fortunate once more.