Pigeon parcels and shisha pipes at Momo

Billed as London’s ‘original Arabic den’, Momo of Heddon Street’s Food Quarter has been dishing out the tenderest, more flavoursome North African cuisine for over seventeen years – practically venerable by London standards – and still going strong.

Momo Restaurant

As someone who likes the minty zing of a mojito but has spent their entire life trying not to hate rum, I was delighted to try the Momo Special, a sweet, leafy cocktail of vodka, lime juice, soda and fresh mint. We sucked these down sipped these delicately while watching head chef Philippe Agnello prepare the house specialty for us, a parcel of pigeon, or pastilla, marinated in warm spices, rolled up in pastry and sprinkled liberally with cinnamon and icing sugar.

Even the sous chef was transfixed by its beauty.
Even the sous chef was transfixed by its beauty.

Philippe and his team prepared the pigeon Art Attack­-style, whipping out ‘one he made earlier’ every now and again to show us the full process from pigeon to pastry.

Disappointingly, our plans to go all Dick Dastardly on our balcony and set up a pigeon trap were scuppered when we discovered that our dinner wasn’t sourced from Trafalgar Square but the Lake District, quite a different kettle of fish fowl.

Momo pigeon
Head Chef Philippe rubs down those bad boys with salt, pepper, ginger, saffron, cinnamon and turmeric.

We then sat down to dinner, which to start included lots of peppers and aubergines. Aubergine has no business being so tasty when it’s only a vegetable – and not a very good-looking one at that – but it really is the big, sexy, purple underdog of the vegetative world. My favourite dish was the Baby Aubergines, which were served oily and tender with dollops of pesto and labneh cheese.

Momo Aubergines

Also top marks for the fish bourek, a deep-fried roll of scallops and prawns. SCALLOPS AND PRAWNS. Like an orgy of shellfish partying on down in one wonderful mouthful.

We moved on to the main course with a medley of melty meats slow-cooked in the traditional Moroccan tagine, which looks a bit like a pottery funnel. This makes the meat soft and flavoursome, with mild but wildly aromatic spices flavouring the meat all the way through.

Smokin' vegetable tagine.
Smokin’ vegetable tagine.
Momo tagine
Lamb with mint, almonds, apricots, figs and dates.

At last, we got to try the pigeon pastilla we’d watched Philippe prepare earlier. It was essentially a big, meaty cinnamon bun, perfectly straddling that fine line between sweet and savoury. It’s on the starter/nibbles menu too, so even if you just go for a drink to sit on the beautiful patio under the heaters, absolutely do not leave until you’ve tried it.

Momo pigeon pastilla
I mean, look at it.

Momo has just started doing afternoon teas, which we had just enough room to sample before rolling ourselves out. Now, I’m as much a slag for a jammy scone as the next carb-gorging fiend, but there’s something just…a bit too twee about afternoon tea for me. It’s been Group-Onned to death in hotels and restaurants up and down the country, and now I’m over it. However, Moroccan-style afternoon tea is a bit different. The pastries are much more interesting, and the mint tea is cleansing and delicious. However, Momo are also serving up their version with elements of the traditional English kind, so it’s like they’ve taken the best bits of two great tea-drinking nations and just jammed (ha!) them together. I can’t believe nobody’s thought of it before, but it’s an unusual take on a Great British tradition.

Afternoon tea Momo

We finished up with some apple shisha on the patio, which despite being February was absolutely rammed. My flatmate, who went to Morocco on holiday last year, tells me the overall experience was more authentic than the real thing, if that’s possible. And that’s quite a statement.

Full-disclosure: we visited Momo by invitation of its PR people, though all opinions are 100% legit. Would I lie to you? I was impressed with the service, but just to make sure we weren’t getting any special treatment I quizzed three complete strangers in the loo, and they had nothing but wonderful things to say.

The full menus can be found here, but the set dinner menu costs £52 per person and the afternoon tea £22. Whatever you do, make sure you order that pigeon (£9.50). I really can’t emphasise this enough. Order. The. Pigeon.

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Author: Emily Gibson

Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.