Sunday, December 06, 2009

December 5, 2009: MoMo

31/12/2012: MoMo has closed down, with Malouf and co heading off to London.

When I enviously read Stickyfingers' MoMo rave earlier this year, I assumed this restaurant wasn't for us - it's been MoMo's meat that most frequently earns kudos, with the veiled quail recently named the Age Good Food Guide's Dish of the Year. Then just last month Chanel11 documented MoMo's vege side - it actually offers an entire, separately bound vegetarian menu! - and I immediately got on the phone to make a reservation to coincide with my birthday.

The restaurant's staff squeezed us in to a 6pm sitting. This didn't yield the sun-drenched photos I was hoping for, however - MoMo is situated in a windowless lower level of the Hyatt. Fuzzy photography aside, it did make for a cozy, intimate atmosphere; though the restaurant must have been near fully booked, our conversation didn't have to compete with those at neighbouring tables. My only gripe would be with the music - on this night it was of the Cafe Chill Out Sessionz Vol. 7 oeuvre.

We made our first course cocktails - a Turkish delight martini (rose syrup, Absolut Citron, vodka, cacao white) for me and a MoMo Lemonade (Middle Eastern lemonade with mint and Absolute Mandarin) for Michael ($20 each). Though they had the bright overtones of rosewater and lemon that we were expecting, they were otherwise strongly alcoholic.

The same appetiser is served to all guests - crisp vegetable stalks dotted with sumac, accompanied by thick mini pitas and a dish of olive oil and pomegranate molasses. Though we were given a fork and spoon each, we weren't sure what to do with them - there didn't seem any way to deal with these veges except with the hands!

Though the pita may not look particularly interesting, it was heavenly. And I knew it could only get better once I dragged it through the oil and pomegranate molasses - I've been devoted to this sweet-sour syrup since the first time I tried it.

The first entree was also a stunner - hommus pooled with olive oil, served with green olive mini toasts and an artichoke salad. You might remember that I'm not big on olives, but they were just what was needed to cut through the silky hommus and buttery toast. The artichoke salad was a revelation, with the mildness of the artichokes and shanklish offset with super-seasoning of peppery sumac and bursts of dill. Even my pet hate, salad onion, played an inoffensive role, sliced into delicate rings and gently cooked.

The falafel arrived while we marvelled over the artichoke salad and so I was ready to taste what might be the best falafel of my life. They weren't. But they were still good! They'd been fried so crisp that we risked launching them across our table as we tried to insert our cutlery, and there was lots more peppery sumac. The sesame-yoghurt-dressed 'gypsy' salad was delightful and I wished there was more of it.

Our first main was these stuffed Hungarian peppers. I am easily bored by veges stuffed with grains and unfortunately these didn't do anything new to thrill me. The garnishing salad was more of the sumac, dill, onion and greens that we ate with the artichokes.

There was an ordering error with our sides that we elected not to hassle the staff about - as if Michael would let me order a tomato salad! I didn't mind taking charge of this one in the least. The tomatoes were a deep, luscious red that I see so rarely, with a depth of flavour to match. Of course they were great with the goats cheese, and matched nicely with the slight aniseed edge of the tarragon.

At least Michael and I could agree on the wonder of the potato salad. The tender room-temperature cubes were lightly dressed with yoghurt and herbs, and combined with roasted almond flakes and what I think was radicchio.

As we made our way through these three dishes, our second main waited patiently for us at the side of the table - couscous 'Royale', featuring seven vegetables and a green harissa broth. The vegetables were just gorgeous, with the potatoes meltingly tender and the broad beans retaining their glossy colour and toothsome texture. Unfortunately by this stage I was too full to properly appreciate this dish and, I'm ashamed to report, left much of it on my plate.

But there's always room for dessert, right? I was relieved to see a refreshing fruit salad with a pineapple-orange blossom sorbet. (Pause and observe one of several lurid spills on the tablecloth - sorry MoMo! You must employ an exemplary launderer.)

Dessert got more elaborate (and more delicious!) with Michael and I being presented with one of these tasting plates each. In the cup at the back is a cinnamon and banana icecream layered with blackcurrant jelly, Persian fairy floss and a leatherwood honey wafer - a lovely set of contrasting textures with Michael even casting aside his banana issues and scraping his glass clean! The date and chocolate tart in the foreground is topped with a kataifi cone stuffed with creme fraiche. While the cone didn't do much for me, the tart was a compact square of chocolate perfection. The filo-draped pot on the right conceals an orange and lemon verbena custard, terrific and tangy but a challenge to finish.

And with that, we declined the offer of coffee and made our way back to the real world. I had eaten more slowly than our hosts had anticipated and though the next couple awaiting our table must have arrived, we weren't rushed out in the least. In fact, service throughout the evening was ideal - attentive, courteous and occasionally conversational. Strangely, the phone service either side of our dinner pushed the boundaries of 'attentive' - I received a MoMo ad via text message several days in advance, a personal call to confirm the booking one day ahead, a reminder text on the day, and a thank you text with and invitation to e-subscribe the following morning.

I can only hope that several days after our dalliance MoMo isn't still sitting by the phone, waiting for me to call. What we had was good - the servings and service were generous, with the vegetarian offerings never looking like pale imitations or lopsided replications of the standard menu. The hits far outweighed the misses, and chef Malouf even had us looking at some dreaded ingredients (olives, salad onion, banana) in a new light. And I am always, always a sucker for a good dessert platter. If only MoMo weren't so high maintenance (the bill came to $250 + tip), maybe I would return those calls.

Address: Lower Plaza Level, 123 Collins St Melbourne CBD
Ph: 9650 0660
Fully licensed
Price: cocktails $20 each, Arabesque sharing menu $100 per person

Other blogs discussing Momo: Absolutely Famished, Slicing Almonds and Zesting Lemons, Eat (Almost) Anything At Least Once, Deep Dish Dreams, and Doublecooked.


  1. This looks INCREDIBLE! I am about to ring them to ask if they'll do a vegan one. And I realyl can't believe that Michael ate banana; it must be a Christmas miracle!
    Also, we made your vegan sausage rolls again for our housewarming - two bacthes - and they all went with requests for the recipe from diehard omnis. We've been subbing Orgran corn cumbs for breadcrumbs which are just too good, adn are planning on making more for numerous family Xmas events - snaps!

  2. Thanks for an entertaining and informative review. I also love how you blog through the range of decimal places - from the Boreks to Momo - within a few days.
    Happy Birthday,

  3. Miss T, I think it'd be worth chasing up - the fact that these dishes so clearly stood apart from their omni menu is a good sign that they'd take some care over a vegan meal too.

    Thanks Craig! We really have been spanning the high and low brow food this week, haven't we? My 'other' birthday dinner will be Lord of the Fries. :-D