Shepherd Market has always intrigued me; there's something about that mix of glamour and seediness that has drawn me to it. Well, it would have if I had ever been able to find it.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always found that stretch of Mayfair west of Green Park station, forming the corner between Piccadilly and Park Lane, disorienting.
So when Mamounia Lounge, the Lebanese restaurant that has established a reputation in Knightsbridge, decided to open their second venue in Curzon Street, the first thing I wondered was how I would find it. Fortunately Google Maps makes up for my navigational shortcomings, and I arrived having made a brief detour to the aforementioned Shepherd Market. More of that later.
Mamounia Lounge is a split-level offering. At street level is the shisha area and cocktail bar, while down the stairs is a subterranean late-night den. This part is a cross between Middle Eastern chic and jazz bar, and sleazy grandeur. Adding to the jazz feel was the fact the band were warming up while I ordered my rather sweet aperitif – a Mamounia special, which was fresh basil shaken with Stoli Vanilla Vodka, lime juice and sugar served over crushed ice.
Empty at 7.30pm on a Friday night, the 100-cover basement restaurant was full to the low-lit rafters by 8, as London’s Lebanese community and enthusiastic punters quickly ensured the band would have an audience. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard Lebanese music, but while its great and lovely, you would hardly mistake it for ‘dinner jazz.’ Middle Eastern rock seemed more appropriate for the music that night. It was certainly uplifting, but I wouldn’t recommend it for a romantic first date. Unless you prefer not to talk.
The menu – a mix of Arabic and fusion (which I think means European-Middle Eastern in this context) – is huge. So under advice from the beautiful waitress, we started with the Lebanese cold mixed mezze tasting platter. It was simply superb. The new highlights of which were the Loubieh – a confit of French beans, tomato, onion and garlic, and the Mohammara – a selection of roasted crushed nuts, blended with red peppers, garlic, sweet chili and olive oil. Brilliant names and great flavours.
We then tried the Sojuk Sadah – Syrian lamb sausages with cumin, sumac, garlic, peppers and a paprika filling, which was subtly spicy and delicious. We shared the grilled filet of sea bass, which was lightly marinated in paprika, garlic and lemon, and as gorgeous as it sounds. At this stage we declared ourselves beaten, politely declined dessert, and sat back and enjoyed the belly dancing.
Which loops me back to my earlier diversion to Shepherd Market, which was disappointingly seedy. Mamounia Lounge, with its harem interiors, belly dancing and ‘shisha chic’ vibe, manages to be both glamourous and cool. I know where I’d rather go.
37a Curzon Street
Mayfair, London, W1J 7TX
0207 629 2211