Posted on Monday, 30th November 2015
MAMOUNIA LOUNGE MAYFAIR
You can’t go past Mamounia Lounge Mayfair and not gawp. The heated terrace churns out continuous streams of shisha smokers – the young, beautiful and so Mayfair – languidly drinking mint tea or playing backgammon. Get through the door, and you are into hushed lights, squishy sofas and, during weekends, pan-Arabic music and belly dancers. Lounge, it certainly is.
But behind the boisterous façade, the kitchen serves up Middle Eastern food that clearly shows both the care with ingredients and attention to detail with presentation. A kind of food that can and should stand on its own.
Mamounia in Curzon Street (the second of two branches, the other being in Knightsbridge) positions itself as a Middle Eastern dining experience with ‘European fusion dishes’. Our lovely Russian-speaking waitress told us that in the past the food was more traditional but recently there’s been a change towards more adventurous interpretations with some European, Mediterranean touches. Indeed, the menu is a mix of classic Moroccan and Lebanese dishes such as falafel, tagines, grilled meats, with a few surprising additions (perhaps to allure the jet-setting palates?) like hommus with truffles or lobster and crab meat tagine.
The restaurant consists of two levels, the smaller space with a bar behind the shisha terrace and a large lounge room downstairs where live music and dancing happen. We were seated on the ground floor in a booth, perhaps most suited for a lively birthday party (what, with a giant flat screen and meshed curtains), but the two of us were slightly lost in the massive sofa facing crowds and staff toing and froing to the loos and kitchen lifts.
Mamounia offers a wide and enticing selection of cocktails, many with champagne and many non alcoholic. We went for the Gold Digger, apparently the top selling signature cocktail. Served in two parts – a short glass of passion fruit liquor with gold leaves and champagne, and a martini glass with more passion fruit and vodka – it was a fun and refreshing start to the meal.
We then selected a spread of cold and hot mezzes. The more traditional Moutabel (£6.75), pureed smoked aubergine with tahini and lemon juice, was delightfully creamy and served with home-made pitta bread, an admirable touch.
Pastilla of Chicken (£7), an iconic Moroccan pie, historically made with pigeon meat, was a scrumptious combination of chicken cooked with saffron and almonds, wrapped in filo pastry and icing sugar. A combination of savoury and sweet which is so common to Northern Africa but could be a love it or hate it pairing for those not in the habit. We loved the crunchy pastry with moist filling, a meal in itself really.
The highlight of the mezzes was ‘Beirut’ hommus with chicken livers (£8). Perfectly cooked (not an easy task) livers atop a cushion of spicy chickpea puree, dramatically served with more crispy chickpeas, walnuts and pomegranate ‘jus’, this was the dish we’d come back for again and again, especially if dawned with a glass of Lebanese Cabernet Sauvignon.
For the mains we opted for Meshoui (£18.50), a traditional Moroccan dish of very slowly roasted lamb. The meat indeed was so soft we could eat it with a spoon, served beautifully on a wooden platter with a few plump dried dates and apricots separately and a little pot of ‘bouillon’. We thought the modern presentation just slightly let the overall flavour down, as the ratio of meat to fruit meant the desired sweetness of the dish didn’t come through. The sauce served on a side tasted a bit too salty, dare we say somewhat akin to a gravy pack. Overall delicious nevertheless.
The other main was a vegetarian plate of stuffed vegetables (£18.75): a centre piece of baby aubergine with Jerusalem (giant) couscous alongside a crispy courgette flower stuffed with goat’s cheese, grilled fennel and – the highlight – artichoke filled with dark flavours of mushrooms. Overall a successful dish, with elements requiring different cooking techniques executed well, put together with a thought for texture and colour. Perhaps just a tad too busy but a good example, we thought, of the kitchen ‘doing fusion’.
The side dish of home-made buttered couscous (£3) was a delight. When made from scratch the grain is so much finer and the flavour is that much more delicate. A rare find in restaurants.
We ordered (and finished to our surprise!) a dessert of Saffron Cheesecake (£8.50). Saffron is a difficult spice to use in desserts but here accomplished with aplomb: warm, just a bit savoury, so light and creamy with the crunch of pistachios.
The service was attentive and smiley throughout the evening with our waitress being happy to check with the kitchen about ingredients and dishes. The music starts to go up rapidly after about 9 pm and the place, especially downstairs, turns up its partying quota – with may or may not be your preferred way of enjoying a meal.
A guest post by Katrina from Russian Revels
1) Hommous with chicken livers and pomegranate sauce. Savoury and sweet flavours dancing in perfect harmony.
2) Beautiful presentation, mostly just enough grace not to over shine the flavours.
3) Vegetables given real attention, such as the stuffed artichokes.
4) Saffron cheesecake, not too sweet and so indulgent.
5) Warm, attentive serve.
1) The sauce accompanying the lamb was overly salty and tasted somewhat artificial. We were yearning for big, lamb stock flavours.
2) The club like atmosphere may not be to everyone’s liking.
Food rating: 3.75/5
Service rating: 4/5
An average 3 course meal about £40 without service and drinks