Caught up in the ‘Momoment’
Tel: 2346 2340
When I was first asked to review restaurants for this newspaper I have to admit it was the sort of challenge I simply couldn’t turn down.
One of my all-time favourite writers just happened to be A.A. Gill, the food critic for the London Sunday Times, whose brilliantly penned pieces have made him a living literary legend.
Here was my chance to see if I may, one day, earn the right to stop using my full name and rely solely on my initials.
Hundreds of meals, remarkable amounts of indigestion and thousands of column inches later, I have learned a couple of important lessons.
Firstly, never think about comparing myself to A.A. Gill.
I have continued to read his pieces religiously over the years and I now realise his food writing will always be a cut above mine. If one of my sentences went up against one of his, it would be left lying in the corner, battered, bruised and choking on its own vowels.
The other thing I have learned is that, contrary to what you would imagine from reading Gill, reviewing restaurants is not always fun and games.
Dining out at different restaurants on a regular basis is like culinary Russian roulette. Most of the time you leave well fed and satisfied. But once in a while you go home with a mouth full of lead which, in fact, would probably be tastier than some of the things you have eaten that night.
However, no one can accuse me of not being prepared to take one for the team. So, when Ed asked me to fill in for him, presumably while he is away sunning himself with Mrs Eats, I wanted to try out somewhere completely new. A gamble, of course, but you don’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket.
Which is how Sharon and I end up at Momo’s in Sliema on a warm and balmy summer evening. This restaurant has only been open a few months but the word on the street was that it was a fine new dining venue.
We walk inside and are immediately thankful we’ve got a table booked as the place is very busy, always a good sign. There are few things more ominous than walking into a restaurant on a Saturday and finding it sparsely populated.
A polite member of staff guides us to a table by a window, which looks out over Manoel Island and Valletta beyond. The restaurant, which specialises in Italian food, also has an Italian feel to its elegant décor. It feels trendy yet welcoming, a difficult combination to pull off.
On the table next to us, a couple are just finishing off what must have been a rather early meal and leaving a pretty handsome tip. That’s another good sign, I think to myself, as we are greeted at our table by the executive chef. Nice touch.
With a sense that we are in good hands, I readily agree to his suggestion that we try the antipastos as a starter, one fish and one meat. From there we agree to play the meal by ear. While leaving yourself at the mercy of the chef is something I always enjoy, it makes Sharon a bit uneasy given her inherent reluctance to venture outside her culinary comfort zone.
We order a bottle of Australian chardonnay because it reads on the wine list like it was purposely made for hot summer evenings. Turns out it probably was, its cool, crisp fruitiness going down an absolute treat.
Our plates of antipasto are with us relatively sharpish and, in presentation terms, they are a delight to behold. Each plate is divided into numerous small sections and within each section nestles a different tantilising ‘micro-dish’. There must be upwards of around 15 or 16 different things to taste here and I waste no time getting stuck into each and every one.
They range from superb to delightful. I’m not going to bore you with too much detail because I would be going on for hours and also because I was too busy enjoying them to take detailed notes (I bet A.A. can do both simultaneously while juggling wine glasses).
However, it’s fair to say they were all quite exceptional. Special mention to the mozzarella parcels which look good enough to decorate a Christmas tree and taste, with their creamy insides, like a small bit of cheesy heaven.
Between courses we continue to enjoy the wine and back it up with the occasional slice of fresh bread dipped in the oil and balsamic dish. Sharon could probably live on this, but next up we have gone for a pasta course.
And this, of course, puts Sharon right in her element. What she lacks in terms of an adventurous nature, she more than makes up for with her love for all things pasta. When this course is served, she immediately dives in and murmurs a variety of appreciative grunts between mouthfuls. Cooked in a simple tomato and bacon sauce, she pronounces it al dente yet delicate.
Around us the restaurant is quieting down as we head out for a quick cigarette break. Outside we bump into the executive chef, Claudio, who is running between this restaurant and the one across the road, which is also run my Momo’s but which serves up more casual fare.
We get chatting to him and discover that, until recently, he was the culinary mastermind behind the food at La Dolce Vita in St Julian’s.
I remember reviewing that restaurant a couple of years ago, just days before my son was born in fact, and the food there had been sublime. And that excellence has certainly been carried over, not just in the food but also the service.
We are back inside for what is, in theory, our main course. But Sharon has given up the ghost. She normally only picks at her food anyway, and has already eaten what would be the equivalent of two meals by her normal standards.
So it’s left to me to enjoy a piece of fish – baby grouper – served in a bowl of broth that is, without exaggeration, magical.
On the side of the bowl are lightly grilled chunks of garlic bread adding a rustic and robust touch to its simplistic elegance.
Even though I am also struggling in terms of space, I can’t bring myself to leave any of this behind. So I don’t. But that is me done. Desserts, despite gentle nudging of the staff, are just not going to happen, so we pack up our rather full stomachs and head home.
I said earlier that dining out can be a bit of a gamble, especially when duty determines you are frequently trying new restaurants. If only all the gambles paid off as handsomely as this one had done. In terms of ambience, Momo’s is very relaxed.
It isn’t easy to mix refined dining with a chilled atmosphere, but it does just that. The service was unquestionably excellent – prompt, efficient and friendly throughout.
Prices are perfectly reasonable. In our case we deviated from the norm a little by letting the chef guide us through the meal, but if you stay on menu starters average around €10 and mains between €14 and €20. All perfectly reasonable.
Most importantly, the food at Momo’s is fantastic. I think if we had known of the Dolce Vita connection in advance, then we would have had a better idea of what to expect. But the fact that we didn’t made the meal an even more surprising success.
Unlike me, Momo’s may be a new kid on the block. But from what we’ve seen of it, it has the potential to be around for a long time to come.
When reviewing any restaurant I try to be as objective as possible and take into consideration all the different aspects which make for an enjoyable meal. The scores I give cannot be seen as a permanent result for a venue, but merely a reflection on how it performed on the occasion I was there. Also, it is important to note that comparisons between different restaurants’ marks should not be made. I score an establishment on how it performs within its own field, not against competitors in different catering sectors. For example, a cheap pizzeria that does what it does well is just as deserving of a high mark as a fine dining establishment would be.