Some restaurants just seem to have a certain something and the Mamounia Lounge in Mayfair, serving Lebanese and Moroccan cuisine, is one of those places
It’s not necessarily down to the traditional fare, or the service, which is charming and friendly but not over the top. And it’s not the décor either – which is most definitely from the school of crystal and gilt rather than concrete and white linen.
Perhaps it’s the combination of all three, creating a vibrant, heady atmosphere that ensures everyone in the room is thoroughly enjoying themselves; from the young Mayfair boys and girls puffing away on shisha pipes on the outside terrace, to the suits enjoying post-conference cocktails (the Dorchester, Hilton and InterContinental hotels are just around the corner) and the entwined couples holed up in those cosy corners.
This is one sexy restaurant, with a dark and exotic Arabian-style bar downstairs, replete with undulating belly dancers and traditional musicians, conjuring up the sounds and spirit of a Marrakech souk.
However, despite the well-appointed location, you needn’t be as rich as an oil sheikh to indulge: our excellent meze starters of house-made hummus, smoky aubergine moutabel, creamy labneh and crispy hot falafel are all around the £6 mark and provide plenty of grazing opportunity (diners are best advised to approach their meal banquet-fashion).
For the main course, I chose a generous meshoui – a spiced, slow-roasted shoulder of lamb served with apricots, orange and fresh dates; delicious, especially when combined with the ‘special rice’, fried with garlic butter, peppers, pine nuts and parsley.
If there’s an ample selection of charcoal-grilled meats to choose from, non-carnivores are well catered for too: my guest enjoyed king prawns with garlic and chilli, and the cheese sambousek – a light, lip-smacking pastry containing parsley, halloumi and mint. To finish, we luxuriated in the arrival of a wooden platter groaning with fresh fruit from all four corners of the world.
They’re all talking about…
23-27 Euston Road, London NW1
If you regularly travel into King’s Cross, pop into Karpo, across from the main station entrance. It might look quirky, with its graffiti-strewn exterior, but inside it’s a chic, contemporary brasserie with fantastic fresh food, expertly cooked. The set lunch menu is excellent: a starter of charred mackerel with sorrel and cucumber followed by thick slices of tender haunch of venison with potato and green peppercorn sauce was cheerfully put to bed with a plate of home-made yoghurt and a Yorkshire rhubarb compote with candied ginger.
On the menu at…
Silver Street, Cambridge
Pull up a chair by the river and loosen your belt. The food served here is hearty, meaty stuff and not for those planning to squeeze into a bikini or pair of Speedos anytime soon. Start with Hampshire game terrine, spiced plums and sourdough toast – then tuck into Atlantic cod fillet, olive oil mash, spinach and tomato fondue. Finish with lemon curd and blueberry mess. The diet can wait.
What do Britain’s top chefs order – and where?
Mitch Tonks, food writer, restaurateur and fishmonger
“Restaurant Nathan Outlaw at the St Enodoc Hotel in Rock, Cornwall, is top-notch. The focus is on fresh fish cooked simply and to perfection. Mark Hix’s Oyster & Fish House, perched on a hill overlooking Lyme Bay, Dorset, is a must. Mark’s a great friend – and an even better chef: the menu is superb
– the oysters, sand eel, and fish soup are all worth a car journey.”