Momo is one of the subtler joints on al fresco-friendly Heddon Street, its shisha terrace hidden behind a canopy of exotic palms. On a sunny evening we were delighted to sit and sip a chilled drink there before going in to eat, soaking up the evening sun while a string quartet, serendipitously placed across the street, soundtracked our chat. I felt as though I should propose, I remarked to my friend Emma — but we decided to hold off until we'd seen what the menu had in store.
Walking into Momo, you do feel like you've stumbled into Marrakech — a shadowy, sexy, scented dining room very reminiscent of a traditional (albeit touristy) restaurant I once visited just off the Jemaa el Fna called Le Salama. This effect is achieved by candlelight and those distinctive brass lanterns, along with the smell of shisha wafting in from the terrace and cinammon from the kitchen. We started with a large dusting of the spice on a pigeon pastilla — meatier and moister than the ones I'd tried in its homeland — along with a more European starter of scallops with artichoke puree. Emma, new to the cuisine, preferred the pastilla even though the scallops were divine.
Main courses had to include tagine — we opted for the lighter, olive and saffron-laced chicken version — and lamb (the herb-encrusted rack). The chicken was tender and its gravy had depth of flavour without being too salty, but the rack of lamb was a little undercooked below its crust. Its accompanying stack of halloumi and aubergine was delicious, however, as were sides of spinach and couscous. We weren't as excited by these as we were by our starters, but this could have something to do with their prices promising something spectacular (main courses cost between £16.50 and £28).
The Moroccan Syrah suggested by our waiter was surprisingly mellow and complimented the sweetness and richness of the dishes, though it wasn't cheap at £11 a glass. We shared dessert — the impossibly delicious caramel macaron with cooked apple filling and a rich dark chocolate ice cream — and a few delicate glasses of traditional mint tea, poured theatrically from above, before we left feeling warmed, romanced and full of sugar and spice.
The food — excellently presented and swiftly served.
The vibe. It may be a bit Arabian Nights as imagined by Disney, but it sets the mood.
Philanthropic Emma spotted that the bottled water was Belu (all distributable profits go to WaterAid) and an optional £1 donation on your bill goes to Kids Company.
The not so good:
The toilets were the only let down. They were less than fragrant, in eavesdropping distance of the noisy kitchen and had a door-with-in-a-door seemingly designed to trip you up on entry.
An atmospheric place to try quality Moroccan food. The prices are lofty but the experience is luxurious.
Momo, 25 Heddon Street, London W1B 4BH (+44 (0)20 7434 4040; momoresto.com)