Momo, the Berber eating place on Heddon Street in Mayfair, is 22 this year and has been overhauled and relaunched to mark the event. In 1997, this was the region that, past doubt, set my eye on becoming a restaurant critic, as soon as the old shield started out expiring from gout. I spent sixty-five minutes there one night, back whilst it turned into one of the very coolest locations to be seen – aside from the pinnacle bar at TFI Friday or doing backing vocals for Finley Quaye on Westbourne Grove.
Momo, as the freshest eating place in London, turned into a super, galling instance of ways places handled their well-known, in-crowd guests, in preference to normal diners who weren’t in Donatella Versace’s retinue. It became surely a completely quiet room – a type of fake-Marrakesh, enchanted souk – and these days it’s largely identical, simply even higher, whole with a golden, hand-painted dome center degree, art‑deco sofas, illuminated palm trees and flattering, peach-hued lights.
Back then, the menu was thrust into our hands by means of a semi-belligerent server with a reminder that our desk, booked months in advance, might soon want vacating. Couscous changed into whisked away mid-mouthful via the body of workers who had one eye at the door in case Patsy Kensit’s hair stylist required emergency shisha recommendation. An try and go to the downstairs ladies’ room have become safety trouble, incurring warnings that I need to now not try to burst off-piste and input the cocktail bar, favored via Tom Cruise because it wasn’t for the likes of you and me. The bill became £46 for 2 glasses of heat pinot grigio and two tagines. It says more about me than Momo that I’ve simmered on this for 21 years.
A fulfilling denouement would have been that I again to study the brand new Momo one recent Saturday night to find a roaring bin fire of wrongness. Instead, it turned into a sudden joy. The front of house at the moment is a smiling squadron who fuss over the entire shoppers, which may additionally now not be A-listing, but the West End crowd of moneyed tourists, well-heeled Essex birthday parties, fourth dates edging closer to the dedication, “Instagram fashions” and those with interesting facial resculpturing. Under Mourad Mazouz (the person in the back of Sketch), Momo has surely weathered the storms of being cool, then uncool, then absolutely irrelevant, earlier than being shabby, stripped and rebooted.
It has clearly were given over itself. The new menu, created by chef Hervé Deville, remains a barely eccentric mishmash of Algerian, Tunisian and Moroccan, however now with the contemporary Mediterranean or, extra as it should be, British prospers. Yes, there are fowl couscous and lamb shoulder tagine and scotch beef tangia with inexperienced olive passes (a type of chickpea fritter). The “conventional Momo couscous” comes with a small platter of lamb cutlet, spiced hen thigh, and merguez, for £26. It arrived with excellent fanfare and a clattering of crockery, become as watery as I recalled, and, by way of and huge, a piece fashion over substance.
The dish that melted my coronary heart and righted two a long time of hurt, however, was harira, a velvety, spicy, dal-like Moroccan soup brimming with cinnamon, turmeric, and ginger. It became up with spoons of clarified lemon paste and harissa so warm, it could blow your (new, tighter) face off. Quail pastilla turned into notable, too: a sensitive, wealthy, candy Moroccan filo pie, as sugary because it was savory, with nougatine pieces and a powerful, blackcurrant sauce. For vegetarians, there’s green asparagus tagine with spiced rhubarb or heritage beetroot couscous, and I shall in no way forget the frankly bizarre teff “pancake”. It becomes a chunk like injera flatbread, however additionally a chunk like a chocolate swiss roll, albeit one blanketed in boiled brussels sprouts and chunks of jersey royal, and came with a jug of green harissa bouillon.
Momo remains noisy, blaring out the form of dance music that to older ears may additionally sense like being attacked via bees. But in case you have been exciting pals, it would be a conflict for everybody to locate Momo “uninteresting”. It’s a vibrant area, full of diners who don’t take themselves very seriously, posing for family group photographs and making a song happy birthday. The meals are quality, too, and you can’t say fairer than that. Puddings are really worth sticking around for. An undeniable-sounding riz au lait became possibly the greatest rice pudding I’ve had in this lifetime, served with confit grapefruit and coriander, which must be a culinary automobile crash, but isn’t. Be warned, though: the chocolate namelaka has a wealthy bed of diced beetroot and hot harissa lying below its cocoa crumble topping. Always order one pudding for the table that divides opinion, because that way there’s a robust risk you’ll get to devour double.