I’ve never been to the Middle East before but I am a fan of its cooking; to me it’s the perfect girl’s food, as it sometimes involves grazing off little plates of deliciousness. And when experiencing the exotic flavours of the Middle East in central London, it’s all about imbibing a fair few cocktails, too.
So a girlfriend’s birthday night out seemed the ideal excuse to sample some authentic Arabic fusion cuisine at the new Mayfair branch of Mamounia Lounge.
But first of all, an aperitif (or the Arabic equivalent). After weaving through the haze of fruity shisha smoke on the packed pavement terrace outside the entrance, we grabbed two stools at the upstairs bar.
First impressions were good. A little bit nightclub, a little bit restaurant and a little bit swanky London bar, the interior is rich and warm and the lighting sultry. While the bar area is quite bijou we certainly made the most of it, indulging in some flirty chat with the rather attractive barman and downing two amazing Gold Diggers – the Lounge’s signature cocktail equivalent of a Porn Star Martini – each.
We soon learned that Saturday nights are very busy at Mamounia and the downstairs dining room is very popular. Non-bookers or latecomers will more than likely end up in the smaller ground floor dining area as we did, despite having a reservation.
Browsing the comprehensive menu with its endless enticing Arabian delights takes time, so quenching our thirst with another Gold Digger each, we finally decided on a range of dishes to share, starting with the ubiquitous Lebanese Mezze Tasting Platter.
Luckily we had our drinks to keep us entertained as the service was rather unhurried. But when the mezze finally arrived, it was worth the wait – fabulous hommous with hot homemade pita bread, tangy halloumi cheese grilled until golden with a sprinkle of sesame seeds, and falafel served with tahini sauce, was wholesome yet rather filling.
Grilled king prawns marinated with lime juice, paprika, chilli and garlic were large and succulent, while the Lamb Tagine with prunes, apricots and almond shavings was the taste of Morocco in a pot; sweet and meaty tenderness.
With clean plates and sated appetites, our minds started to wander. The upstairs DJ’s funky house was perfectly acceptable background music, but we wanted to find out what Middle Eastern delights were to be found in the subterranean den downstairs.
And we couldn’t have been more surprised – here is where the party really gets started. With the scent of incense in the air, live and upbeat Middle Eastern music set the soundtrack and evoked the spirit of Marrakech, while a sophisticated selection of diners, already loosened up by the sublime cocktails no doubt, let their hair down.
By the time we’d sunk another drink we realised it was way later than we thought – we had, in fact been at Mamounia Lounge for over three hours. A sure sign of a good night.
Mamounia Lounge, 37 Curzon Street, London W1J 7TX. Tel: 020 7629 2211. www.mamounialounge.com.