When you have lived in London for a few years, it’s easy to become blasé about the old place. You get so frustrated on the days when your train is delayed by 10 minutes that you forget what a total miracle our extensive, complicated, largely safe and mostly on-time public transport system is to visitors. You get annoyed with tourists who stand on platforms or escalators taking photos – why on earth would you want to take photos of a grubby old Tube platform? But when I think back to being a teenage tourist in London, one of the things that I loved most of all was the Tube, which I thought to be the height of Cool Britannia. How soon we forget. I also remember coming to Harrods as a tourist back in the 1980s and walking around in a daze, just mesmerised, both by the insane merchandise (a luxury dog kennel for £1,200!!) and the ornate building which looked unlike any store I had ever seen in my life. I tried to remember my sense of awe as a tourist in an attempt to stay patient and calm as I weaved my way through the gawping throng of tourists moving at glacial speed past Harrods on a sunny Saturday last weekend. My destination was the Mamounia Lounge restaurant, a stone’s throw from Harrods, to meet Michelle, Sarah and Margot for an afternioon of Middle-eastern feasting.
The Mamounia Lounge takes its name from fabulous 200 year old gardens of the Mamounia Hotel in Marrakech, which cover 20 acres and were laid out in the 18th century as a wedding gift to Prince Moulay Mamoun from his father. The restaurant may not be 200 years old or of royal bloodline, but it certainly is very lovely to look at with its sultry Moroccan-inspired bar, its banquettes scattered with comfy cushions, and its pretty perforated light fittings that trace pattens on the ceiling and walls. Mamounia bill themselves as a restaurant serving modern Arabic fusion food – predominantly a mixture of Lebanese and Moroccan food. There is also a pavement terrace for shisha, and an upstairs function room which I did not visit. Soon I was reclining on my banquette, all thoughts of annoying pedestrians forgotten, perusing the cocktail menu. You certainly are spoilt for choice – there is a range of unusual long and short drinks to tempt you, from the Marrakech Express to the Raspberrita via the Gold Digger (!) and the watermelon martini. I chose the Chamberry (fresh raspberries shaken with Belvedere Black Raspberry Vodka and Chambord, topped with Champagne – £11) while my companions opted for the Passion Champagne (passion fruit, Passoa and Cassis topped with champagne – £12). Although my Chamberry was delicious and pretty, I sincerely doubt that any fresh raspberries were shaken in its making. It seemed to be simply the Vodka and Chambord in the bottom of the glass, topped with champagne – it was garnished with a raspberry, but that’s hardly the same thing.
As we sipped our cocktails, we took a look at the menu, which is divided into salads, soups, cold mezze, hot mezze, fish, couscous, tagines and charcoal grills. Caught up in a rush of enthusiasm for the mezze, our eyes were immediately bigger than our stomachs and we wanted to order absolutely everything. We called our waitress over to ask for some advice as to how many mezze dishes would be appropriate to order between four, but she was vague to the point of uselessness, despite our explaining that we wanted to share and try as many things as possible. In the end, based on or own ideas rather than any sort of helpful suggestions from staff, we opted for the cold mezze selection, plus some add-ons so that we could sample a good selection while still leaving space for our main courses. First to arrive was the pretty spectacular fresh pita bread, puffed up like clouds of warm dough. Our accompanying selection of starters kicked off with the cold mezze platter (£12.50): hommus(chickpea puree), moutabel (smoked aubergine puree topped with pomegranate arils),moussakaa (aubergine baked with tomato), labneh (a fresh Lebanese yoghurt), tabbouleh(chopped parsley, tomato and crushed wheat salad), loubbieh (confit of French beans with tomato and spices), and foul mukala (broad beans cooked with coriander, garlic and olive oil). In addition, we ordered the mohammara (£7 -roasted crushed nuts mixed with sweet chillies, red pepper and olve oil) the sambousek cheese (£6 – small fried half-moon pastries filled with halloumi cheese, onion and pine nuts) and the sambousek lamb (£6 – small fried half-moon pastries filled with halloumi cheese, onion and pine nuts). The cold mezze platter was a delicious and of a generous size – definitely enough for 2 people to share, or in our case, four people looking for a not-too-huge starter! The hommus was excellent and I loved the pomegranate arils with the moutabel, although Michelle thought there was too much tahini and not enough aubergine in the dip. Stand-outs for me were the loubbieh which were lightly cinnamon-spiced; and the garlicky foul mukla. I liked the fact that the sambousek were lighter than expected and not at all greasy, although the cheese ones could have done with more filling. We were not all convinced by the mohammara though. Although I have eaten it elsewhere as a dip, this example was very rough-textured and the nuts did not taste roasted to me. Also, although the recipe usually calls for pomegranate molasses to impart sweetness, I would eat my hat if this one were made with anything more exotic than sweet Thai chilli sauce. Not a huge success, and a tiny portion for £7 – but that was the only duff note among the starters.
No middle-Eastern meal would be complete without something sweet, so our final stop on the menu was the dessert section which comprises a number of fruit platters and traditional middle-Eastern desserts, plus a token chocolate fondant. The thing that really struck me about the dessert menu though was the prices: £9 for a platter of watermelon; £9.50 for a chocolate fondant pudding with ice-cream; and an eye-watering £16.00 for a platter of passionfruit. Frisky. Margot chose the fig tart with cinnamon ice-cream (£7.50 – not pictured) which was good with a buttery pastry case and a generous amount of fresh fig filling, but the delicious cinnamon ice-cream definitely stole the show. Sarah went with the chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream (£9.50) which was a perfectly pleasant, average-sized chocolate fondant, but most certanly not worth £9.50. Michelle’s platter of passion fruit (£16) did what it said on the tin – 8 passion fruit halved and served topped with a berry each. But the price….! Just eye-watering, considering all the kitchen had to do was slice the fruits open and plate them. The best deal seemed to be my choice: the selection of baklava (£7.50). Comprising 6 different types of pastry and 8 individual pieces, this was also enough to share between 2 people. All the pastries were fresh and crisp, and the large one in the centre stuffed with candied hazelnuts was particularly more-ish – definitely the winner among the desserts. And of course, all good middle-Eastern meals should finish with some Moroccan tea (£3 per person), poured expertly from a great height into little glasses, scenting the air with the aroma of fresh mint leaves.
My overall impressions? I really liked the space itself: a lot of attention has been paid to the decor and it looks exotic without resorting to pastiche. It also feels like the kind of place where you can while away the hours, watching the shisha smokers on the terrace and the passing parade on the pavement, while sipping on your mint tea. A touch that I particularly liked was that as we were leaving, staff were scattering red rose petals on the tables set up for the Saturday evening service, which is a nice touch (there is evidently also belly dancing on a Saturday night!). My food overall was very good, although perhaps some of the other menu choices (the lamb meatball tagine or the chocolate fondant) were less successful. My main gripe would be the erratic pricing. Charging more for a small ramekin of indifferentmohammara than for a generous portion of four sambousek pastries makes very little sense. And although I thought the tagines were big eough for 2 people to share and therefore excellently priced at £19.50 each, the dessert prices are frankly bizarre. I mean, £9.00 for a platter of watermelon, or £16 for a platter of passion fruit which require only slicing; as opposed to £7.50 for a plate of intricate pastries? Surely they are having a laugh?That said, there was a constant stream of customers walking through the doors when we were there on a Saturday afternoon, either to have a meal or to enjoy the shisha terrace, and the vast majority of them were middle-Eastern. To me, it’s always a good sign if an ethnic restaurant is patronised by people familiar with the cuisine it purports to serve – so according to that measure, Mamounia surely is doing something right. I am certain that it is possible to find both more authentic and/or cheaper middle-Eastern food in London, but if you are in the area and need a plush place to sit down and chat over a plate of mezze or a tagine, Mamounia Lounge is certainly worth a visit and can be quite affordable if you choose circumspectly from the menu.
Liked: the decor/ambience, the generous tagine portions, the mezze
Disliked: the somewhat indifferent service, the hilariusly overpriced desserts
On a scale of 1 to 10: 6.5
For other perspectives on this meal, please check out:
DISCLOSURE: I enjoyed this complimentary meal as a guest of Mamounia Lounge but was not paid to write this review and all my opinions are my own.
MAMOUNIA LOUNGE 136 Brompton Road Knightsbridge London SW3 1HY
Tel: +44 (0)207 581 7777 Fax: +44 (0)207 581 5777
And in other news…
My latest article to appear in Crush Magazine (p34-35) is all about visiting the Vaucluse region of Provence – have a look at the gorgeous layout of my words and pictures that they have produced!
Also – this week we mark another milestone in our Plate to Page story. We’ve been working on our sparkly new website behind the scenes and putting together a brand new workshop for 2013. We’ve worked hard and there were many frustrations, highs and lows but in the end we rocked it. The Plate to Page website is looking hot – isn’t it?
We’re absolutely thrilled about our fourth workshop taking place in May 2013 in Dublin, Ireland. Mark those calendars! From 10th – 13th May 2013 we’re taking the From Plate to Page workshop to the beautiful rolling green hills of County Meath, Ireland. You’ll find all the details to the workshop in our Ireland announcement page. And if you’re wondering whether the workshop is right for you, just read what our past participants have said about our workshops!