Tom tries an American-style diner with an inspired Mediterranean take
Like so many restaurants, both old and new, Mo Diner has had a pretty wretched year. It launched briefly before the first lockdown – then was shuttered until October when it flung open its doors once more, only to be closed down all over again. But owner Mourad Mazouz, the rather brilliant restaurateur behind Sketch, Momo’s and Mo Diner, is admirably sanguine. ‘It is what it is,’ he says, as I await my friend. ‘I try to look for the positives.’ I’ve known Mazouz for years, and have long been a fan of his restaurants. This one, his Mediterranean take on an American diner, is inspired.
It has the classic long counter with stools facing an open kitchen, and booths along one wall. But the tables are canary yellow, the stools and booths clad in burgundy material and the ceiling plastered with photographs of sun-drenched palms. Over the kitchen, with its charcoal grill, is a neon yellow camel. It’s a room filled with effervescent delight. Then there’s the food. Mazouz has recently appointed Eric Chavot as his ‘chef orchestra’, in charge of the whole group. Chavot, who recently left London’s Bob Bob Cité, is one hell of a cook, and this is a match made in restaurant heaven. On each table, a tube of harissa paste replaces the usual Tabasco, and instead of ketchup, there’s olive oil. The menu skips around the shores of the Med like a sun-seeking sybarite, bringing together a sort of edible greatest hits of a dozen different cultures.
A lentil salad, gently spiced, with shreds of smoky aubergine, and merguez sausages ‘in blankets’, stuffed in pitta with a sharp green chilli slaw. Prawns, sweet and fresh, come wrapped in crunchy Greek kataifi pastry. Steak tartare is as lustily Gallic as Chavot himself.
There’s a bouillabaisse with all the gutsy swagger of a sailor on shore leave. And fricasse, a glorious Tunisian sandwich where fluffy, deep-fried bread is stuffed with tuna, eggs and capers. Sardines from renowned Spanish specialists Brindisa are served in their tin, with confit lemon and a sprinkle of fennel pollen. While socca, that Southern French chickpea pancake, is light as a sigh and topped with a great splodge of labneh.
In short, Mo Diner tastes as good as it looks. A blast of pure Mediterranean sun, on this most sullen of winter days.
Mo Diner, around £30 a head, 23 Heddon Street, London W1; modiner.london. Currently closed due to Covid restrictions. From next week, Tom will review the best food home-delivery services and suppliers nationwide.
DRINKS: Olly’s sherries to savour
I’ve created a sherry schedule so as not to miss out on the myriad styles, from bone dry to sticky and sweet. I’ve recently invented Sherry Wednesday, since it is the perfect tipple to pour over the midweek hump – fortified power means a little goes a long way, sipping is slow and contemplation is compulsory. Barbadillo’s ‘Reliquia’ is particularly evocative – more than a century old, it’s liquid history. Sherry for ever!
TESCO FINEST CREAM SHERRY (18%), £6. Liquid fruit cake, this is sublime served chilled as a teatime treat.
IDALGO MANZANILLA PASADA PASTRANA (15%), £12.99, Waitrose. Serve ice-cold for sherry’s answer to a dry martini.
MATUSALEM 30-YEAR-OLD OLOROSO (20.5%), £24.99, Majestic. Divine fruity extravagance to serve lightly chilled with a cheeseboard.
BARBADILLO RELIQUIA PEDRO XIMENEZ (22%), around £346, barbadillo. com/en. More than 100 years old! A jet of thick dried fruit takes taste buds into orbit.
WINE OF THE WEEK CO-OP IRRESISTIBLE PX (17%), £6. Unctuous as date syrup, this dessert in a glass feels like endless indulgence.