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Thursday, 22 May 2014

Momo Memories...

Name: Momo

Where: 25, Heddon Street, London W1B 4BH, + 44 207 434 4040, http://momoresto.com/restaurant/london/momo/restaurant/

Cost: Dinner Set Menu £52 per person includes a Momo Special cocktail, a selection of 4 starters to share (meze), 1 main course and 1 dessert. From the à la carte menu, starters cost from £6 to £11 while mains vary from £17 for a vegetarian couscous to £24.50 for the fish of the day. Tagines are priced £18.50 for chicken, £21 for fish and £22.50 for lamb.

About: Opened in 1997 by Parisian-Algerian restaurateur Mourad Mazouz, Momo has, over its nearly 20 years on the London restaurant scene, become a bit of an institution for those looking for North African cuisine in the UK.

Momo was the first London restaurant to draw the attention of critics and diners alike to serious Moroccan cuisine. Today, it has sister restaurants in Paris, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Beirut.

My first taste of Moroccan cuisine was at Momo in 1999, and I remember falling in love with the cuisine there and then. I was struck by the combination of slow braised meats, dried fruits, preserved lemons, olives and myriad spices in the tagines, or over the lightest of couscous - two of my favourite foods today.

It was with some trepidation that I returned to Momo this month – would it live up to my fond memories? I should not have worried - our latest meal at Momo, 15 years after I first visited it, did not disappoint. Head-Chef Philippe Agnello is doing an excellent job, delivering North African food that is still unrivalled in London.

What We Ate: We started with a selection of 4 meze dishes all brought to our table at once. One of our favourites was the assortment of Briouats - small filo pastry parcels stuffed with cheese & mint, chicken and seafood that were crispy, flavoursome and very moreish.

The baby aubergines with labneh cheese, pesto, broad beans and lemon confit were good and beautifully presented, as were the seared scallops with aubergine chutney and yellow beetroot. Although well cooked and seasoned, I thought one scallop per person was a rather meager portion.

The pastilla of wood pigeon was delicious - chunks of sweet and spiced wood pigeon, were laced with almonds and cinnamon, wrapped in filo pastry and fried. Served with orange marmalade, Momo’s pastilla was a great example of one of Morocco’s national dishes.

And then we were onto the mains. One of Momo’s signature dishes, highly recommended by our waiter, was the “Couscous Momo”. This included a very tender and succulent lamb shank, charcoal grilled lamb skewers and merguez sausages. The selection of meats was generous and beautifully cooked but it was the accompanying couscous that transcended this dish to another level.

Possibly the best couscous I have ever tried, it was wonderfully fine and silken and being cooked in a couscousiere over steam (the proper way to do it), it was also airy and deliciously light. As tradition dictates, the couscous was served with a meltingly tender stew of vegetables cooked in a rich broth. This was a magnificent dish that warrants a return visit to Momo soon!

The chicken tagine, another classic of Moroccan cuisine, was also outstandingly good. Cumin-scented chunks of chicken breast were served in a clay tagine pot in a heady, saffron-flavoured broth with preserved lemons, olives, potatoes, onion compote and coriander.  I loved this dish and the wonderful combination of flavours, but would have loved it even more, had chicken thighs been used instead.

Dessert was a fine selection of Maghreb pastries including a rather clever pastry wrapped creme brûlée and a refreshing sorbet of mango served with Moroccan mint tea.

What We Drank: The wine list is extensive, featuring both new and old world bins. The entry level wines (vin de pays) are priced £21 (red) and £25 (white). We had the Momo Special cocktail which is included in the £52 tasting menu, made with Ketel One vodka, mint, lemon juice, sugar and soda water. It was refreshing and well-made, tasting rather like a Cuban Mojito. Cocktails are mostly £9, but some are £15 if champagne-based.

We shared a bottle of 2012 Castelmaure Corbieres 2012 (£31) from the Languedoc Roussillon region - a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault. This was a robust wine that went particularly well with the slow braised lamb shank and spiced chicken tagine.

Likes: friendly and efficient service, the best couscous I have ever tried, the chicken tagine with preserved lemons was also very good.

Dislikes: the outside terrace where guests drink and smoke does not make for a very enticing entrance, and together with the basement night club, the ambiance feels somewhat like a bar and club, which is a pity for a restaurant serving food of this caliber.

Verdict: 17 years on, Momo is still serving some of the best Moroccan food in London. Fantastic couscous and tagines, great cocktails and an extensive wine list. Recommended.

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