Gourmet Travel: Momo, Beirut

We head to the Balinese hills of Ubud for a dinner date at the only Indonesian choice on the San Pellegrino World’s 100 Best Restaurants list
Tuesday , 13 March 2012
Mourad describes Beirut as the perfect fusion of tradition and modernity
Mourad describes Beirut as the perfect fusion of tradition and modernity
Momo’s eclectic decor is the perfect complement to the North African and traditional French-inspired fare
Momo’s eclectic decor is the perfect complement to the North African and traditional French-inspired fare
Cous Cous with lamb, chicken brochettes and merguez
Cous Cous with lamb, chicken brochettes and merguez

Many of us are familiar with the ever-so-quaint Moroccan eatery, Almaz by Momo, hidden at the top of Harvey Nichols in Mall of the Emirates, and the original central London outpost Momo, famous for hosting Kate Moss’ birthday bash. Both are the brainchild of French-Algerian restaurateur Mourad Mazouz, who has also made his mark in Beirut’s renovated Souks district with a majestic Momo restaurant and lounge bar. “I have discovered in Beirut, the perfect fusion between tradition and modernity in an Arab-Mediterranean city,” says Mourad.

The restaurant itself is a curious mix of vintage furniture, designer items and made-to-measure fixtures. Once you’ve ooh-ed and ah-ed at the decor and taken a peek at the kitchen, settle down in one of the quirky chairs and digest the menu of strong North African flavours and traditional French dishes.

Starters entice with differing dishes like tuna tartare with a caramelised soya sauce, a carpaccio of sea scallops with redcurrant jelly, celeriac and a harissa remoulade and pigeon pastilla, with a sprinkling of cinnamon and toasted almonds. As for mains, our vote goes to the kofta tagine with spicy tomato sauce, dried cherry tomatoes and quails eggs, or the signature couscous dish (check out the recipe on the next page).

Whether you are a cheesaholic or not, I beg anyone to challenge us on the Momo signature dessert – a fromage blanc (a milk-based white cheese, much healthier than cream cheese) cheesecake topped with blackcurrant marmalade, sitting prettily alongside fresh goat’s cheese spheres, blackcurrant jelly and blackcurrant almond paste.

Service from the Lebanese waiters was slick under the helm of French restaurant manager Romain Arnaud. The restaurant was a little quiet on our visit, which could explain the excellent service, but to be expected for Sunday night trade in Beirut. Having said that, the neighbouring lounge bar which serves up mezze style dishes was pulsing with beautiful people and rocking with music. Clearly there are some things people won’t stay in for.

Cous Cous with Lamb, Chicken Brochettes and Merguez
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp cous cous spice mix
1 medium onion, chopped
1 celery stick, cubed
¼ fresh coriander, chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 carrot
2 courgettes
2 turnips
¼ Savoy cabbage
700g lamb leg, cut into large cubes
4 chicken breasts
10 pieces Merguez sausage
For the cous cous:
500g cous cous
500ml water
1 tsp salt
100ml olive oil
Serves 5

Cous Cous Grain:
1. Pour the dry cous cous into a large bowl, with 20ml of the olive oil and salt.
2. Pour the water in, leave to soak for about 20 minutes stirring from time to time with your hands.
3. Put the couscous in the upper part of a couscous steamer – cook for about 15 minutes from when it starts to steam.
4. Tip the couscous into a bowl, allow to cool, then sprinkle with 100 ml of water and the rest of the olive oil.
5. Reserve until required.
Meat and vegetables:
1. In the stockpot of a cous cous steamer (lower part), heat the olive oil, add the onions and cook for 5 minutes – add carrots, celery, chopped tomatoes and paste.
2. Season with salt and cous cous spices – pour in 1 litre of water and bring to the boil.
3. Lower the heat and cook for about 1 hour.
4. Add the rest of the vegetables and cook for about 20 minutes.
5. Reheat the cous cous grain in the steamer (upper part).
6. After the steaming of the cous cous, add olive oil and the chopped coriander to the sauce.
7. In a deep plate, pour a portion of cous cous and then add the sauce to your taste.
8. The night before, marinate the lamb with ½ tbsp of the cous cous spice – add some chopped coriander and olive oil.
9. Poach the Merguez for 3 minutes before grilling.
10. Grill the chicken skewers on the barbecue or grill and serve with the cous cous.

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