MAMOUNIA – Eat Great Food Under Airport Level Scrutiny

Mamounia Lounge Restaurant Bar Knightsbridge London 08 En route to the newly refurbished original branch of Mamounia in Mayfair, we pass the Saudi Arabian Embassy and two burly security guards holding automatic machine guns. I realise now that I have been here before €“ who can forget such a site? It was several years ago for what turned into a wonderful evening of traditional Middle Eastern food and live entertainment in a quaint establishment that one would happily associate with being "Middle Eastern". When I say quaint, I mean quaint for Mayfair, which I can assume is why Mamounia decided they needed a shake up to bring the flair of Mayfair to their subterranean restaurant and cocktail lounge. I wish they had not done so. If the old Mamounia was a quaint, family-run restaurant in an Arab village, with a rich heritage, then the new refurbished one is a soulless, eatery built in a Western resort in Dubai to please Western travellers. On entering, two things make me feel like I'm at an airport; first the revolving door, and secondly the tall, ominous man dressed in black with an earpiece that confronts us and informs us we will first have a drink upstairs, before heading downstairs for dinner then we may have some shisha later in the evening. I almost feel compelled to ask him if he has specific times when these things will take place and whether we're in danger or the ones suspected of causing some trouble later? The atmosphere in the lobby is awkward and oppressive. The space between the bar and the ever-revolving door is far too small, which means anyone stood by the door is a massive inconvenience to the staff, who continually nudge past them with trays of food en route from the kitchen to the patrons sat outside. Then there are the pounding club beats and the neon pink lights... The bartender's favourite, a passion fruit mohito is a satisfying twist on the classic. At £10 it's reasonable for the area, but it is a great distance from the beverages served close by that have just made London cocktail capital of the world. As we head downstairs to the dining room I have hopes of a change in mood and respite from Friday night in Fabric; I am desperately disappointed. The neon pink lights are still present, maybe even brighter; the pounding, club bass beats are certainly louder. I read an article recently about the music they play in McDonalds restaurants. The study concluded that the reason they play peppy pop songs is they encourage quicker consumption. After Mamounia, I can confirm this is true, and not just because I wanted a respite from the club; it's a sub conscious thing. You body starts to move to the rhythm, as does your actions. This is not the kind of atmosphere I want to eat in, let alone an expensive meal (mains are between £15 and £20) and one of such skill and quality, such as is on offer at Mamounia. Screen Shot 2013 10 17 At 15 03 09 Head Chef Ramdane Djebarri's menu is an extensive array of Moroccan and Lebanese dishes that draw on the finest ingredients to offer an authentic taste of his heritage. The fundamentals, which one can and indeed is often left wanting in Middle Eastern restaurants are met with aplomb. The Fattouch is fresh, crisp, suitably acidic and minty. The Hommus is thick, rich and creamy and the bread warm, fresh and puffy. But at £6 and £8 respectively it really is the least to ask for. The Meshoui - 8 hour slow roasted shoulder of lamb is a must eat, not just if you find yourself in Mamounia, but if you live in London and appreciate slow cooked meats. I've spooned my way through half of the meat, which I swear would shred under a harsh enough stare, before I notice the accompanying bouillon. The fusion of oranges and dates to a perfect gravy-like consistency cling to the shredded meat and give a delightfully sweet finish. £15 for one, or £27 for two is a tad steep, but as they say, you get what you pay for. The lamb tagine is as perfectly cooked as it is presented; the spicy richness of the succulent lamb is cut exquisitely by the sweetness of the prunes, apricots and the almonds. Far less successful was the vegetarian option: under-cooked carrots and potatoes and several indiscernible vegetables, smothered in a sauce that would make the naga chilli pale in comparison. It gives credence to the rhetorical question, why would a vegetarian visit a Middle Eastern restaurant? Mamounia If there is a fair answer to that question then it would be, 'for the baklava'! And Mamounia will not disappoint you here. Furthermore their chocolate fondant is a cocoa volcano of rich, buttery sponge that houses a thick, gooey, ridiculously sweet centre. The giant fruit platter, fit for a Roman Emperor was sadly neglected. We end the evening outside for some shisha and our discussion turns to who are more intimidating, the machinegun-toting security agents of the Saudi Embassy across the street or the security team at Mamounia quickly ushering us to sit and smoke as we're on a strict time limit. The cognac and champagne flavoured shisha sound interesting, but at £170 and £220 respectively, per session, they will remain just that. We sample the blue and pink mists; both are mellow and give, what I have became known to be, the desired shisha effect €“ a subtle light headedness and post-dinner, non-nicotine based activity. The food at Mamounia is exquisite - amongst the best Middle Eastern cuisine in London. However, the question is whether you are willing to endure the pounding club beats, neon pink lights and embassy level security to enjoy it. The newly refurbished Mamounia Lounge and Restaurant, Mayfair, is located at 37a Curzon Street, W1J 7TX. For more information, visit http://www.mamounialounge.com/mayfair/
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Frustratingly argumentative writer, eater, reader and fanatical about film ‘n’ food and all things fundamentally flawed. I have been a member of the WhatCulture family since it was known as Obsessed with Film way back in the bygone year of 2010. I review films, festivals, launch events, award ceremonies and conduct interviews with members of the ‘biz’. Follow me @FilmnFoodFan In 2011 I launched the restaurant and food criticism section. I now review restaurants alongside film and the greatest rarity – the food ‘n’ film crossover. Let your imaginations run wild as you mull on what that might look like!