Friday, November 2, 2012
Winter is coming. Last week London got colder than it’s been since May. Which is to say, last winter. Being Californian and therefore perpetually in denial of winter until it is at least halfway over, I found myself freezing in my unheated flat on Friday evening. It was too late to escape—most of the long-haul flights to vitamin-D-rich locales had already departed—but it wasn’t too late to indulge my denial with a trip to a place where I could pretend it wasn’t cold. Where? Knightsbridge. Mamounia Lounge, to be specific.
Located on Brompton Road just down the street from Harrods, Mamounia is one of many Middle Eastern restaurants in a row. Each one has an area out front with tables full of young people eating, drinking, and smoking shisha, and all of them have glass-fronted dining rooms looking out onto the action.
So how I did I come to be at Mamounia Lounge instead of any of the others? I was invited. It wouldn’t have taken much to lure me out of my igloo of a flat that evening, but cocktails, Lebanese-Moroccan food, and the promise of a belly dancer would have appealed any night of the year.
The biting wind nearly catapulted me through the door, but once inside I found myself in a scene straight out of Arabian Nights. Rose petals lined the steps and the tables, candles and lanterns set the mood, and silk pillows and gilded mirrors rounded out the ambiance. Good-bye London winter, hello Moroccan summer night.
To celebrate this happy change of season, I ordered a cocktail from a comfy banquette at Mamounia’s lounge bar. Soon a friend joined me and quickly we were sipping a Blueberry Lady and a Gold Digger Martini. The former was a healthy mix of gin and antioxidants, while the latter was a passion-fruit-and-vanilla concoction with a side shot of Champagne.
We enjoyed our cocktails to the sounds of a live DJ, then headed to our table in the long, narrow dining room in the back of the restaurant. With its gold curtains and abundance of throw pillows, it made me feel like I was under the stars in a world far away from winter.
My friend and I settled into our table along the banquette, ordering from the extensive menu of mezze and mains. She went for a Marrakech salad, while I ordered haloumi sambousek.
The salad was a dream. A mix of chicken, tomato, cucumber, mango, pineapple, lettuce, and lots of fresh herbs, it tasted like a beautiful summer day. My friend said it best when she took her first bite and declared: “I could eat this salad every day.”
The sambousek were also tasty, if a bit less glamorous than the salad. The light pastry exterior and rich, salty filling were just the comfort I needed from the cold.
As were the mains. We both went for tagines, mine chicken with potatoes, lemon, and olives, and my friend’s lamb with almonds, prunes, apricots and spices. They were worlds apart taste-wise—what with mine being on the fresh, citrusy, salty side, and hers being on the rich, warm, sweet side—but both blended their flavors in the right ways.
Speaking of comfort, by the time we finished our mains we were starting to slip into a nice food coma from the pleasant ambiance, abundance of food, and service so warm it made us feel like we were in someone’s home. But our spirits were revived with the arrival of the foretold belly dancer.
In came her navel, swirling to the sound of the music and hypnotizing everyone in the room. For two dances, she transported us to a magical, mythical land far away.
When she left, we comforted ourselves with the most comforting food of all: dessert. I went for the plate of assorted baklava, and my friend for a fig tart with cinnamon ice cream.
Both were good, but the real star was Mamounia’s signature chocolate fondant that our server insisted we try. The little cylinder of cake contained rich, warm fudge that warmed our hearts as much as it did our mouths.
And it was a good thing, too, because when our evening of summery indulgence at Mamounia Lounge ended, we were back out in the cold. Doubling up my duvet that night, I shivered into sleep, waking the next morning to a letter from my energy provider telling me they had raised my rates. So maybe instead of heating my flat this winter, I will just move into Mamounia for an endless summer of warming food, beautiful belly dancers and berry cocktails. Who’s with me?