Name: MoMo
Address: Lower plaza level, Grand Hyatt, 123 Collins Street, Melbourne
Ph: (03) 9650 0660
Hours: Tues-Sat 6pm-10.30pm
Chef: Greg Malouf

You can really tell a lot about a restaurant from its toilet. From the dirty room with broken taps down a back alley through to sleek, modern design with automatic fixtures, the bathrooms almost always mirror the feel of the place.
At Momo the toilets smell of rosewater, and this gentle scent so linked to the Middle East tells a lot about it.

I went to Momo with my family for a birthday dinner, and we were looking forward to it. We had dined at Greg Malouf’s previous iteration of the restaurant a number of times, and we had always loved it. With recent reviews saying that it was now even better, this set our expectations very high.

As you come out of the elevator you are confronted with a scene of joyful opulence, with blue-lit chain mail curtains, plush banquettes and glitzy chandeliers. It sets you up to be excited, and shows real attention to detail.

This detail continues when you sit down, as the waiters match your serviette with your trousers, giving black ones to people in dark pants. They claimed this was to prevent the opposite coloured lint getting on you. Unnecessary? Probably. But it does make you think they care.

Overall, the service was strong, with everything well paced. There were a few minor quibbles, such as two waiters explaining the same dish straight after each other, but these things happen.

As we toasted with our glasses of sparkling ’04 Winstead Blanc de Noir from Tasmania ($14 glass), we were presented with something to nibble on. A collection of crisp strips of raw vegetables was served with beautifully soft puffs of bread, and a dish of oil with sweet, sticky pomegranate molasses. This was a simple, fresh starter, and more interesting than just bread and butter.

We ordered the $140 Moorish sharing menu. This gave us all four entrees, two main courses, all four sides and all four desserts, all to share. I like the idea of a sharing menu. There is a certain level of theatre with the waiters dolling out the dishes at the table, and everyone eating the same food gives a sense of togetherness that individual dishes can sometimes miss.

The fist entrée was a kingfish cerviche, beautifully presented around the sides of a large bowl. This was wonderfully fresh, with a little bit of sharpness to cut through. A pile of soft herbs delivered exactly the flavour they should, with the dill and coriander in particular layering very well with the fish. It was served with a smoky baba ganoush, which makes me biased towards the dish, as I adore eggplant. A stylish combination of flavours, this was an excellent start.

It was followed by a zucchini flower, stuffed with haloumy, deep fried and served with tomato and white anchovy. The tomato was of exquisite quality, sweet, rich and juicy. It was so unlike the bland red balls you get from the supermarket. The classic combination of these tomatoes with the sharp anchovy shone, but this stunningly fresh pair overshadowed the flowers which we pleasant but not astounding.

A golden spiced crab risotto with chickpeas, baby beets and a mussel in brik pastry was the standout dish of the night. It had that rich, buttery flavour that you want from great risotto, and great seafood. The chickpeas did not add much in terms of flavour, but texturally gives a little crunch. I could have eaten mountains of it. This was edible gold in a bowl.

At the same time as this we were given a goat kibbeh, served on some fennel tzaziki. This suffered from the expectations of the overly detailed descriptors from the waiters. When it was placed on the table the waiter spoke of a centre of cardamom butter. The way he spoke, it sounded like this would ooze out as we cut into it, the anticipation of which set my cardamom loving family buzzing. However, when we cut it all we found was a pleasant but almost dry little patty. Not only did it not ooze out, but there was no flavour of cardamom at all. It turned what was, objectively, probably a reasonably nice dish into a disappointment.

With entrees we had a 2008 Goaty Hill Riesling from Tasmania ($56). This was very fruity, and suited all the entrees well. When I was ordering the wines the sommelier came across as being a little unsure at times, but he paid attention to where I was thinking and then made suggestions along those lines. It meant that both wines we drank fitted with both the dishes and the tastes of the tables, and left everyone content.

Our first mains was the famed veiled quail. This quail stuffed with chorizo and pine nut, wrapped in vine leaves and served with mustard whipped feta was the Good Food Guide’s dish of the year last year, so expectations were high. It was a rich, meaty, punchy dish. The flavours were exciting and powerful, if not as layered or complex as it could have been. This was a dish that took no prisoners, and instead slapped you across the face. What it does it does well, and it does hard.

It was served with a baby iceberg lettuce salad with egg with a preserved lime Caeser salad dressing. This was a dish that makes you realise just how bad most of the Caeser salads you can get are, and what they could be. Tangy and fresh, it would make the perfect lunch.

The other side was a warm potato salad with a smoky paprika and almond tarator dressing. It was bit ingenuous to call this a potato dish. Yes, it had potatoes, but the main ingredient was the raddichio, which gave a delicious bitterness to match with the paprika yoghurt dressing.

Our second main was a daily special of venison. The description from the waiter said that the venison was marinated in spices like ginger, juniper, cinnamon, and mountain berries, but the meat had no taste of this at all. It was nice meat, served beautifully rare, but it was unexciting. Served with more of my favourite, baba ghanoush, this time with a bitey, stringy cheese melted through it. This gave the already delightful dip a richer, fattier bite to it that helped this special, but didn’t lift it enough.

The first side with this was a spanakopita. Crisp filo pastry filled with feta, currants and leek, topped with pear and jamon, this was an exciting little parcel. Spanakopita is usually pleasant, but this took it past that. It was light, salty, with a touch of sweetness, and it was delicious.

It was also served with a tomato, goats cheese with tarragon and sumac salad, but we kept this as a kind of palate cleanser at the end of the dish, rather than a side. The tomatoes again were beautifully sweet and fresh, the cheese creamy, but the big surprise here was the tarragon. These slightly aniseed little leaves lifted the dish to another level, and made it more than just a dull salad (albeit one with exceptional ingredients).

For wine, a 2004 Coto de Hayas Granacha/Tempranillio Crianza ($70). I am infatuated with Spanish wine at the moment, and this version didn’t disappoint. It has a very soft touch of cherry, which went perfectly with the two mains.

Desserts came as a tasting plate for each person, plus some fruit and sorbet to share. Fantastic way to serve them, but when it came to flavour they were nice rather than exciting. A peach and hazelnut clafoutis had a great freshness, but lacked the creaminess I want from my desserts. The thousand layer apple, chocolate mousse and honey wafer had a great hit of apple flavour, but nothing to blow your socks off. It was the same story with the rosewater strawberry icecream, pistachio icecream and Persian fairy floss, and the fresh figs, pomegranates, passionfruit and plums with prickly pear sorbet. There was nothing wrong with anything, but at the same time nothing exciting.

Overall, everything was good, and a few dishes were exceptional. But with the expectations of reviews, and of the Momo of old, it just didn’t quite live up to what we were hoping. Too much of the food lacked that little touch of excitement that you get at other 2 hat restaurants around town, such as Attica, Cutler and Co, or MoVida. Yes, some dishes were amazing, but for $140 per person before wine, I just wanted a little more.

But at least the toilets smelt nice.


About freehugstommy

Food, films and politics are my triumvirate of passions.
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