I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Morocco a few times. Other than year round sunshine and great people, the other main attraction is the food. Oh the wonderful food. Great fusions of French and richly cooked dishes depending on what takes your fancy. Particularly the tagines, so called because of the slow cooked dishes that are prepared in a special earthenware pot. Think of the wonderful stews you can cook in a slow cooker and then imagine how they must have been doing this for years.
It’s the perfect dish for cold winter months. When tastecard asked me to visit Mamounia Lounge, a recent addition to the tastecard family, I jumped at the chance. The last tagine I consumed was last September when I was in Agadir, Morocco. I asked my oldest friend Simone to join me. Oh, Simone isn’t “old”. It’s just that I’ve known her for 24 years, hence the term, my oldest friend!
Mamounia Knightsbridge is located on busy Brompton Road. Why does that sound familiar you ask? Well it’s where the grand department store Harrods is. I so happened to walk past Harrods on my way out of Knightsbridge station. The windows were mesmerising as the store was nodding to the impending Chinese New Year.
Mamounia is less than a five minute walk from Harrods. There were already a small group of people outside having a drink and shisha smoking. We were greeted warmly. As we were a bit early for our seating we were invited to have a cocktail at the bar. Taking in the surroundings it was clear to see that the decor nicely complimented the wealthy Knightsbridge neighbours of Harrods and Harvey Nichols. The tables and restaurant in general had a scattering of red rose petals which added a lovely touch to the feel of the restaurant – and it wasn’t even Valentine’s Day yet!
The bar staff were so friendly, giving us advice on what to choose, asking us what we liked and paying close attention so that they could make a cocktail to our tastes. We found our favourites. Simone took a particular liking to the house special cocktail – Passion Champagne. A blend of Passion fruit, passoa and cassis, topped with champagne. Quite beautiful to look at.
The barmen looked like they fancied a bit of a challenge of trying to please me by making the perfect cocktail so I put them to their paces. They asked what I liked to drink and I said gin was my type of alcohol, and that I’m not partial to sweet drinks, more of a fresh, citrusy person. A little bit of rustling here, some shakes there and I was presented with this:
They didn’t give away what was in it until I had guessed. When I tasted it – WOW. It was perfect. Refreshing. Not too sweet, moreish. I thought I tasted watermelon but I was wrong – close – but wrong. The drink consisted of Cucumber juice, raspberry puree, gin and a dash of vodka. I felt very special – this cocktail was made especially for me – it was not on the menu!
I made a mental note to try to recreate it at home.
We moved from the bar to be seated at our table and at the same time a DJ started to play a more up-tempo style of music and the volume went up a notch. Whilst seated, we ordered another Mamounia favourite – Gold Digger. We stifled giggles when asking for a “gold digger please”.
We weren’t expecting two drinks each to be delivered to us. The combination of fresh passion juice, vanilla essence shaken with vanilla vodka looked impressive. The cocktail was accompanied by a shot of champagne with gold leaf flakes on top. Our waitress instructed us to drink the shot first and then enjoy the cocktail but not to mix them. It was another winner. A lovely fruity combination.
After nibbling on some olives, it was time to start eating. We ordered a selection of starters to share. Some recommendations from staff, some we liked the look of and some I had read online that other diners had enjoyed. We were completely open to trying new dishes – the best way to dine – so here is your crash course in Moroccan/Lebanese dishes.
Sambousek Cheese – Mini pastries filled with Halloumi Cheese, onion and pine nuts. They were like mini Moroccan pasties. Simone and I were pleasantly surprised that the halloumi was moist and not the chewy consistency it would be fried.
Makanek – Home made Lebanese sausages fried with lemon juice. I had to choose these – I’d seen a photo of them online and they looked like little chipolatas and I imagined that they must be filled with flavour and juicy. I was right, both Simone and I really enjoyed these. So much so that when we had decided we should stop eating starters to save space for our mains, the waitress took our plate away and I quickly retrieved the last sausage – I couldn’t bear to see it go to waste!
Pastilla of Chicken – I don’t know if sweet/savoury dishes are just very popular with lebanese and moroccan cuisine, or if Simone and I just happened to choose a lot of the sweet dishes, but this and the XX definitely contained a sweetness and ingredients seemingly popular with such foods. This dish of boneless chicken wrapped in pastry with almonds, cinnamon and sprinkled with icing sugar may sound strange to some but the flavours complimented each other well. It’s a good thing we were sharing starters because I don’t think this is a dish one person could have eaten alone. After two portions, I’d had enough and was ready to try something new.
Mohammara – This was easily my favourite dish of the evening. I knew about this dish before visiting as I had been poring over photo’s of the food Mamounia served on the net beforehand. It looked interesting and for that reason alone I had to try it. It was another sweet/savoury one. Roasted crushed nuts, mixed with sweet chillies, red pepper and olive oil, bound together and formed into a perfect mould. I loved the combination of sweet and spicy. It was subtle and moreish.
Post starters we were a little full – we’d certainly gone overboard… Our waitress asked if we wanted to have a break in between our starters and mains, but we didn’t think that was a good idea as the body might have thought it was full and repelled more food!
We both ordered typically traditional Moroccan dishes. Tagines of course. How could we not? The lamb tagine stated in the menu that it came served with prunes and apricots. I felt like I’d already had a lot of sweetness in my food so I asked the waitress how sweet the dish would be and if it would dominate the dish. I didn’t want to have two mouthfuls and then be fed up. She assured me that it wasn’t too sweet. A little more contemplation and I decided to go for it. Simone chose the tagine of slow braised lamb shank.
I was amazed at how huge Simone’s lamb shank was when it came! At one point from my angle it looked like she hadn’t eaten much, but it was because she was so busy working on her side!
We both ate as much as we could but we couldn’t hide the fact that the starters had filled us immensely. Dessert was definitely not on the cards. We could just about muster some mint tea that we chose instead thinking it would be a good way to digest. We enjoyed our mint tea, whilst watching…….. a belly dancer. I kid you not!
We certainly weren’t expecting to be entertained whilst we dined! The entertainment suitably fit in with the atmosphere of the restaurant. Diners cheered on the dancer and clapped in time to the music. Simone and I were watching open mouthed thinking “wow she is in good shape”. She could move and we were envious! The finale met a rapturous applause and the DJ commenced the eclectic funky beats he had been playing.
We finished our tea and clutching our full bellies thanked the staff and started our journey home. We had been fed very well and were feeling a little sleepy. It’s a shame we didn’t stay longer as I think we would have enjoyed ourselves. The restaurant was starting to get busy with diners and those simply having cocktails at the bar. There were a lot of shisha smokers outside when we left. This seemingly quaint restaurant had turned into a hotspot for those in the know in Knightsbridge.
Was it authentic? The tagines were certainly authentic. The starters were all new experiences for me as I hadn’t tried any of them before – apart from the houmous of course. Learnings for next time? Perhaps not to have so many starters as I forgot that tagines are EXTREMELY filling!
Finally a little tip. If you plan to visit in Winter, try to get a table to the rear of the restaurant. A quaint impressive area hidden behind the bar. It was a bit cold where we were sitting owed to the staff walking back and forth serving shisha customers. It became quite drafty. I only discovered the area to the back when visiting the loo’s – after my main course. I wish I’d seen them before as I would have definitely opted for one of those tables!