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.