Tucked away right at the back of Harvey Nichols in the Mall of the Emirates is Almaz by Momo. Visit the shop in pursuit of designer shoes or bags and you could easily miss the restaurant, which would be a great shame because it is something of a north African gem. As soon as you enter, the mall location becomes a mere memory; coloured lanterns dangle from the ceiling, the seats are plush and inviting and the walls glitter as the mosaics catch the light. This place is inviting and atmospheric without trying too hard.
One area in which it could try harder, though, is with the service, which was well meaning but still ever so slightly painful. We were asked if we were ready to order two minutes after being handed the menu and then our request for more time was taken rather too literally. Similarly, a second bottle of water and the bill took too long to to arrive. While not actually rude or inept, the service could use a bit of polish.
We shared a plate of falafal to start, and it was just right: very light, with a perfectly crisp outer shell and a piping hot, nicely textured, well-seasoned filling. My friend ordered the potatoes hurrah and the taste justified the name. Bite-sized cubes of potato were cooked to perfection, crunchy and golden on the outside, fluffy and soft in the centre, like the ideal roast potato. They were served in a spicy garlic and coriander sauce and really were good.
Babaganoush was our least favourite starter. It tasted fresh but lacked a certain zing. There wasn't quite enough depth to the smokiness and I suspect the aubergines would have benefited from being roasted for a while longer.
The lamb tagine that I had for my main course was lovely. The slow-cooked meat was tender and not too fatty, the prunes were plump and juicy and while the light stock-based sauce was full of sweetly spiced flavour, it wasn't at all cloying. The overall effect was a rich, silky, well-balanced dish that was thoughtfully portioned.
My friend's seafood moghrabia was equally good: a pretty plate of decently sized prawns, pieces of moist white fish, a sprinkling of mussels and a few rings of squid, all lightly dressed in a buttery yellow saffron sauce, with grains of moghrabia hidden underneath. The ingredients had clearly been treated as individual elements, rather than being chucked in the pan together and left to bubble away.
Although the squid tended towards the rubbery, all the other seafood was cooked very well. The flavour of the saffron was discernible - it offered a slight bitterness to counter the rich sauce - but it wasn't overly astringent, as it can be.
We ordered pastries and a pot of Moroccan tea to end the meal. It seemed strange that despite the pastries being listed as a "selection", and the fact that they were placed in the middle of the table (both factors that suggested sharing), there was only one of each and they were quite small and difficult to split. Still, the mint tea was refreshing and the pastries provided enough honeyed sweetness to end a very good meal on a (sugar) high.
A meal for two at Almaz by Momo, Mall of the Emirates, Dubai costs Dh320, not including service. For reservations call: 04 409 8877. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and reviews are conducted incognito.
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