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 was the location that, past doubt, set my eye on turning into an eating place critic, once the antique defend started out expiring from gout. I spent 65 minutes there one night, lower back while it becomes one of the very coolest locations to be seen – other than the pinnacle bar at TFI Friday or doing backing vocals for Finley Quaye on Westbourne Grove.
As the hottest restaurant in London, Momo turned into an excellent, galling instance of ways places dealt with their famous, in-crowd visitors, as opposed to everyday diners who weren’t in Donatella Versace’s retinue. It was without a doubt a beautiful room – a kind of faux-Marrakesh, enchanted souk – and today it’s largely the equal, just even higher, entire with a golden, hand-painted dome center stage, artwork‑deco sofas, illuminated palm timber, and flattering, peach-hued lighting fixtures.
Back then, the menu becomes thrust into our palms with the aid of a semi-belligerent server with a reminder that our desk, booked months in advance, could soon want to vacate. Couscous became whisked away mid-mouthful using a body of workers who had one eye at the door in case Patsy Kensit’s hairstylist required emergency shisha advice. An try to visit the downstairs women’s room became protection trouble, incurring warnings that I need not attempt to burst off-piste and input the cocktail bar, favored utilizing Tom Cruise because it wasn’t for the likes of you and me. The bill turned into £46 for two glasses of warm pinot grigio and two tagines. It says greater approximately me than Momo that I’ve simmered on this for 21 years.
A pleasant denouement would have been that I lower back to check the brand new Momo one latest Saturday night time to discover a roaring bin fire of wrongness. Instead, it becomes a surprising pleasure. The front of the house is a smiling squadron who fuss over the entire customers, which may additionally no longer be A-list, however the West End crowd of moneyed vacationers, nicely-heeled Essex birthday parties, fourth dates edging in the direction of commitment, “Instagram fashions” and those with interesting facial resculpturing. Under Mourad Mazouz (the person in the back of Sketch), Momo has weathered the storms of being cool, then uncool, then absolutely beside the point, earlier than being shabby, stripped, and rebooted.
It has got over itself. The new menu, created using chef Hervé Deville, is still a barely eccentric mishmash of Algerian, Tunisian and Moroccan, however now with the present day the Mediterranean or, extra as it should be, British thrives. Yes, hen couscous and lamb shoulder tagine and scotch pork tangia with green olive passes (a kind of chickpea fritter). The “classic Momo couscous” comes with a small platter of lamb cutlet, spiced chook thigh, and merguez, for £26. It arrived with super fanfare and a clattering of crockery, changed into as watery as I recalled, and, by using and large, a bit style over substance.
The dish that melted my coronary heart and righted two a long time of harm but turned into harira, a velvety, spicy, dal-like Moroccan soup brimming with cinnamon, turmeric, and ginger. It turned up with spoons of clarified lemon paste and harissa so warm; it can blow your (new, tighter) face off. Quail pastilla was exquisite, too: a sensitive, rich, candy Moroccan filo pie, as sugary because it changed into savory, with nougatine pieces and an effective, blackcurrant sauce. For vegetarians, there’s inexperienced asparagus tagine with spiced rhubarb or heritage beetroot couscous, and I shall by no means forget about the frankly weird teff “pancake.” It turned into a chunk like injera flatbread. Additionally, a chunk like a chocolate swiss roll, albeit one covered in boiled brussels sprouts and chunks of jersey royal, got here with a jug of green harissa bouillon.
Momo remains noisy, blaring out the kind of dance song that to older ears may also sense like being attacked with bees’ aid. But in case you were pleasing pals, it might be a struggle for every person to locate Momo “uninteresting.” It’s a colorful vicinity, full of diners who don’t take themselves very severely, posing for their own family group pictures and singing happy birthday. The meals are first-rate, too, and you could’t say fairer than that. Puddings are worth sticking around for. A simple-sounding riz au lait changed into likely the greatest rice pudding I’ve had on this lifetime, served with confit grapefruit and coriander, which must be a culinary car crash, but isn’t. Be warned, even though: the chocolate namesake has a wealthy mattress of diced beetroot, and warm harissa mendacity beneath its cocoa fall apart topping. Always order one pudding for the table that divides opinion because manner there’s a robust risk you’ll get to consume double.
So I’ve determined graciously to forgive Momo. The negative things. They scared me off for 20-bizarre years. They won’t be as lucky again.