Restaurateur Mourad Mazouz Introduces His New Beirut Bistro
The vibrancy of Mourad Mazouz’s latest Beirut venture, Momo at the Souks, is made vivid in French photographer Arnaud Pyvka’s curious series of still lifes. Blending French-Moroccan cuisine with Middle Eastern flavors, the stylish eatery situated at the top of the Lebanese capital’s jewelry souks is the second outpost of the Algerian-born restaurateur’s original Momo restaurant in London. Although his other establishments, including Sketch in London and Derriere in Paris, are among the culturati’s most sought-after tables, Mazouz hopes for a wider clientele for his new joint. “In Beirut I put the prices at the level of most of the local places,” he explains, “because I want it to be open to as many types of people as possible.” Mazouz stresss that his restaurant are not part of a predictable chain—each one is unique to its situation. “My next Momo will be a two square meter, hole-in-the-wall shawarma shop in Paris,” he deadpans. In typically rambunctious fashion Mazouz, one of Louis Vuitton’s latest Amble Ambassadors, talks of late night parties and losing all his staff in Beirut.
Setting up shop:
I chose the area that I did [above the jewelry souks], and designed a restaurant like that, because I’m not living in Beirut all year long. Honestly, if I lived there I would just do a little roof bar hidden away without a sign, because that’s really my image of the city, and it would be a temporary space.
Age and beauty:
I’m very critical of myself, but Momo at the Souks is perhaps the top achievement of my restaurant career. The design reflects 20 years of going to the market, attending fairs. It’s a mix of vintage, customized pieces and new design. The furniture is from all over France, England and Beirut. When I did the restaurant I thought of Yves Saint Laurent. It has huge garden terraces all around, with plants everywhere. I tried to create a place in Beirut that feels timeless. Right now it looks a little bit like a new shoe, but it’s going to be more beautiful the more it is used, as the walls crack and blister.
The other night I asked all my posh clients to leave the restaurant at 1am and I made an underground party. In half an hour we took all the furniture away and then played crazy music until 7am with friends, a few DJs and artists. Everyone worried about destroying the place but I was like, don’t worry. If we destroy it, we re-do it. I’m not trying to be cool. I don’t give a shit about that. You are what you are. Me, I just love people; I love the big mix. I love old, young, black, white, rich, poor. My dream is always to put them all together.
Half and half:
The food is half French—“Sketch” (haute cuisine) French—and half traditional Moroccan. You can order foie gras de canard, tartare de thon or joue de boeuf but also simple tagines or couscous. Because that’s me—my mother is French, my father is Algerian. The food reflects this closeness, and the mix of high and low that I love.
Adapt or die:
There’s no discipline whatsoever in Lebanon. I needed to learn a whole new approach with the staff, the suppliers, the builders. Basically, when I tried to do things the way I knew, 20 of the staff left. I was not annoyed; I just had to adapt. That’s why I’m in Beirut. In fact the same week I was to open in Beirut, I was offered something in New York. Picking between them was no big choice. Beirut is much more interesting for me—seeing people, the society, of the Middle East. Of course New York would be fantastic, but my next project (if I have a next project) will be Istanbul. I think it’s the most unbelievable city in the world.
See Mazouz’s guide to Beirut on the Louis Vuitton Amble application here.