Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurant as Theatre: Moro and Momo

Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurant as Theatre: Moro and Momo

Article excerpt

GWYNETH Paltrow was the first to admit it - Cool Britannia is as dated as a pair of last year's trainers. On a recent visit to London, she hated the wilting polenta and platform heels. Why could no one make a Yorkshire pudding any more? Even Newsweek, in its recent survey of modern Britain, concentrated on cords, tea with milk, the Daily Telegraph and roast beef. Ben and Jerry's, who originally coined the term Cool Britannia for a brand of ice cream, have dropped it from their range. Consumers, they say, have lost the taste for the product.

Tony Blair can ditch the label now it has run its course. But how will the hundreds of restaurants that opened under the happening new Labour government fare in this changing cultural and culinary climate? Chefs can't suddenly start making shepherd's pie in their wood-fired ovens. Some, like Terence Conran, will ride this cultural backwash as smoothly as they exploited the high tide of hip. His latest establishment, Sartoria, based in Savile Row, is decorated with ye olde English tailoring, with measuring tape for ashtrays and buttons for candleholders.

But what of restaurants like Momo and Moro, which brought Cool Africana to Britannia? Will they become modern classics like the Ivy and the River Cafe, or fizzle out in the puddle of hype? My most seriously foodie friend volunteered to assess their staying power. Hattie Ellis is the kind of professional who has eaten a placenta cake, created raspberry jelly breasts for a stag night and consults Tudor cookbooks for handy hints. While we lived on Mars Bars, peanuts and alcohol at university, Hattie would rustle up banana and Malteser souffle after the pub. She is about to publish Mood Food, a recipe book.

My job was to check for Moroccan authenticity, having spent several holidays eating tripe and couscous for breakfast with Berbers in the High Atlas mountains, and pastillas for dinner in the tiled splendour of the Palais Jamai in Fez. I tried Momo first. It took ten minutes of pressing various buttons before I was allowed to speak to reservations. Then I had to hand over my credit card details in order to engage in further conversation. They had one table left in a week's time, at 7.30 p.m., but our seats would have to be vacated by 9.15 p.m. When was the first table available at 8.30 p.m? `We never do 8.30 p.m., only 9.30 p.m.,' came the reply. Grudgingly I booked for the later time, and was told I would be charged L24 if I didn't turn up. Two days before our dinner I received three menacing messages demanding I ring to reconfirm.

The little alleyway off Regent Street could, at a pinch, have been mistaken for a seedy corner of the Marrakech souk, except for the white stretch limousines. The lavatories were more disgusting than anything Morocco has to offer, with slippery, muddy floors and broken tiles, and the tables were so close together that you couldn't fit a sheet of filo pastry between them. There was latticework round the windows, and wailing music on the sound system. But there 'Africa' ended and Europe began with a vengeance. The entrance was guarded by two bouncers chatting up some girls in leopard-print bras and plaits. They would have been out on their tummy buttons in Muslim Morocco. Here their pierced navels gave them instant access to the exclusive club downstairs. Inside, the place was packed with large gaggles of girls wearing see-through nighties over their Gstrings and kirby-grips with butterflies in their hair. …

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