So ever since chilling with Beirut’s coolest cats in the trendy Momo at the Souks last year, I’ve been looking forward to indulging myself at the London outpost of this classy little empire, and at first glance it appeared that many of the hallmarks of this middle-eastern gem that had so enticed me in the Lebanon were on hand to do so again at Momo on Heddon Street. A chance visit last Saturday night to the bar and cafe convinced us to come back – great mezze, delicious cocktails and in attractive surroundings, low lit and seductive, where the smell of sheesha bubbling away outside occasionally wafts through the little clusters of stools and sofas which hold love-struck couples as comfortably as groups of friends kicking back on the weekend. After being thoroughly impressed, it would have been rude not to come for dinner properly, and not being the types to hang around, GG and I just about managed to beg a table on a very busy Friday evening.
The restaurant has a much more obviously Moroccan decor, and is far noisier and more bustling than the bar was. Couples can forget all notion of a quiet corner – small groups are stacked up on lines of tables that see you sit next to whoever walked in before you, which was far less intrusive than we feared, however anyone searching for romantic nooks and crannies is looking in the wrong place. The staff are charming and enthusiastic, all smiling and enjoying a busy evening, and you get a sense of a big happy family, especially when there is someone celebrating their birthday – the place erupts with cheering, whistling and dancing, though by the third time in one evening the song might start to feel oppressively loud! We were welcomed very well, and the maitre d’ dealt very charmingly with a slight bill mishap as we were about to leave – a word from the wise: always check the number on the card machine: everyone makes the occasional mistake!
Remembering fondly the cocktail list of the week before, the sexily red Burning Desire and a cool and refreshing Real Iceberg Martini certainly got us into the swing of things, and took the edge off having to choose from the extensive and delicious sounding menu very nicely. Tempted by the idea of small starters to share, we somehow both ordered for two (oops, funny how that happens), and so were rewarded with a good spread of plates. The Wood Pigeon Pastillas were deliciously gamey, and whilst GG falls into the camp of those who don’t like icing sugar sprinkled on their starters, I secretly thought it made for a nice contrast (though couldn’t say that at the time, obviously), like a very refined sweet and sour. The Chicken Bourek again coupled a fine eye for detail with a great combination of flavours – chicken parcels with a delicious saffon, almond and honey dip. These meaty treats were healthily offset by Mechouia and Zaalouk – delicious pepper and aubergine dips that played host to a whole range of spices and flavours.
Although filling up rapidly, we pressed on with the main courses which arrived a sensible time after we had made short work of the first round. My Lamb Tagine was perhaps the best i’ve ever had – high quality, lean lamb in a bubbling sauce that was bulging with fruity flavours – full, plump dates and a tender pear crowning the small mountain of meat in the middle. I don’t think it can compare, however, with GG’s Saddle of Lamb – perfectly tender, succulent meat with a perfect accompaniment of spelt, mushrooms and a lamb jus that only just stayed beautifully presented for a couple of minutes before it was hungrily devoured. Her pudding was also something to behold – Momo’s Chocolate Plate – a wafer cup of cookie dough and ganache, with a chocolate straw and rich ice cream – a work of art packed with strong and delicious flavour. I went for the Crème Brûlée, which turned out to be an interesting choice – a delicious mango and passion fruit carpaccio and sorbet with three little balls of battered custard. A novel spin on a classic pudding that I couldn’t help but be pleasantly surprised by, but the batter was just a little too fritter-esque, a little sickly and bland that was at odds with the rest of the food we very much enjoyed (I suspect this is very much a matter of personal taste).
We eased this extensive spread down with a bottle of Savennières (Cuvée les Bastes, Domaine des Barres, 2010) which, rather rich and spicy, complemented the food very adeptly. All in all, therefore, an enjoyable evening, and we staggered into the bitterly cold London air feeling very satisfied, if rather heavy. The food was of a high standard, presented with panache and served with a sense of fun that was contagious, and although a 13% service charge lifts the bill a fair whack (though not as much as a slip of the finger on the card machine), for a top-end night out in central London with a small group (the optimum number to guarantee a table seemed to be 6 or thereabouts), I don’t think you’re paying over-the-odds. 3 courses will sit in the region of £40, plus whatever you drink. While for intimacy I’d probably favour the next-door bar and cafe, Momo gives a dining experience that I’d recommend to anyone.
Momo, 25 Heddon Street, London, W1. 0207 434 4040.