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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Friday 10th June 2005


It's always a sign that a restaurant or nightclub has really lodged itself in people's hearts when a phantom "S" is added to its name. For instance, I've never heard J Sheekey referred to as anything other than "Sheekey's", just as Tramp will always be "Tramps". Similarly, Momo, which is both a restaurant and a nightclub, is known throughout the great cities of the Western world, where it's cosmopolitan customers hail from, as "Momo's". Ostensibly, this is a reference to the nickname of Mourad Mazouz, its North African owner, but then, he also owns--or part-owns--Sketch and no one calls that "Momo's". Indeed, few of the customers at either restaurant/nightclub can possibly know his name. As elsewhere, the phantom "S" at this West End perennial is a tribute to how much it is loved.

It's not hard to work out why. Its combination of French and North African influences combine to create a memorable cultural hybrid--a little slice of Marrakech, via Paris, in the centre of London. When my wife and I arrived at about 10.15pm on a Wednesday night we'd just missed the belly dancers, but, fortunately, almost every woman in the place had a bare midriff. With its ultrasoft lighting and hypnotic, drug-fuelled music, Momo's is a reminder that not every country in the Middle East is in the grip of religious fanatics. On the contrary, it looks like a harem designed for a rich rug merchant. On my way to the loo I mistakenly opened a door that led to the kitchen, but I wouldn't have been surprised to see a roomful of pashas lounging on throw cushions and smoking opium.

Momo enjoyed a fairly lengthy period in which it was considered the most fashionable restaurant/nightclub in London and Hollywood celebrities, who haven't a clue where the latest hot places are, often show up when they're in town. Last month, for instance, Sharon Stone threw an impromptu birthday party for her mother at Momo's. But judging from the evening I spent there, most of its customers are young American businessmen who've been told by the concierges of their hotels that it's is still a good place to pick up models.

Given that the food is never going to be the main attraction in places like this, it was surprisingly good. Caroline and I only had time for one course each--we'd promised the babysitter we'd be back by Midnight--so she had warm mozzarella salad, while I had chicken tagine. Mine was accompanied by a huge bowl of couscous and, after shoveling a spoonful into her mouth, Caroline declared that it was a good deal better than the 'Pot Noodle' version I make at home (just add hot water). The chicken, which had been marinated for six hours, was excellent, while my wife's deep fried mozzarella balls were refreshingly grease free.

The really impressive thing about Momo's is that, for all its trendy cache, it's not guilty of resting on its laurels. Compare the food here, for instance, to that available at Langan's Brasserie round the corner. The staff have that spring in their step that is the hallmark of a well-run restaurant and the service was friendly and efficient. Ultimately, this it a tribute to Mourad Mazouz, a hands-on proprietor if ever I saw one. He often bangs on about how both Momo and Sketch are a labour of love--monuments to his pursuit of perfection, rather than commercial ventures--and, irritating though this is, the proof is in the pudding.

Whatever your opinion of these expensive, over-designed emporia, there's no denying that they add to London's allure. When fashionable young Parisians hop on the Eurostar to spend the weekend in London it's so they can come to places like this. I don't much care for these popinjays, and I'm not much of a fan of Momo's or Sketch, to tell the truth, but I am proud of the fact that London is the capital of Europe and it's thanks to the vision and hard work of men like Mourad Mazouz that this remains the case.

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