The American Diner Gets a Mediterranean Makeover by a Famed London Restaurateur

Mourad Mazouz, the creative force behind Momo, Sketch, and Au Bascou, can't stop reinventing the classics.

Mourad Mazouz, the creative force behind Momo, Sketch, and Au Bascou, can't stop reinventing the classics.

On the wall of a new London diner is a chaotically arranged selection of photographs of its owner, Mourad Mazouz. Here he is with Picasso, and Andy Warhol, and Brigitte Bardot. He’s in bed with John and Yoko. Hold on a minute… “You think I should leave them up?” says Mazouz with a huge smile. “I mean, obviously it’s all Photoshop, but is it good?”

Of course it’s good. Because if Mazouz had met any of these famous names, they would have almost undoubtedly become his friend. He has that effect on people. From Au Bascou, the restaurant he opened in Paris in the ‘80s, to the folie de grandeur that is Sketch in London, Mazouz has worked his way through the very tricky business of hospitality with a winning combination of charm and intuition, as well as a steely attention to design.

Sometimes he enlists the great and the good—Gabhan O’Keeffe spent some of the Sketch budget to create the glamour and hush of its fine-dining experience; India Mahdavi more recently created its pale pink brasserie with David Shrigley—but it’s Mazouz himself who dives right in.

This year, he set about reinventing Momo, the restaurant he opened in London 23 years ago, when he discovered it was impossible to find a decent plate of couscous in the British capital. First he revamped the main dining room and its terrace. Then he turned the basement from the boisterous disco it had once been (Madonna had a birthday party there in the ‘90s) into a grown-up cocktail bar.

And now, this week, in the skinny ground floor slot next to the main place, he has just opened Mo Diner, though don’t expect checkered floors and chrome. “Look, there are palm trees on the ceiling,” says Mazouz, pointing to the backlit panel of printed Barrisol (a material more often used for swimming pool ceilings) where dazzling golden fronds are silhouetted against a lilac sky.

The restaurateur came up with the idea six years ago, while reading an article in the New York Times about the death of the diner. “I’d talked about doing one eight years ago,” he says. “And then I find they’re disappearing all over America. So that was it: a daylong diner, with a European edge, and a little bit of 1930s feel.” The design is entirely his own doing, from the sandy yellow zellige tiles, handmade in Morocco, to the beachy wicker baskets lined in palm-print fabric for the safekeeping of handbags. The lights along the bar are those found in the French Trains de Grand Vitesse (TGV) that connect Bordeaux and Toulouse. Designed in 2016 by Ionna Vautrin, they are now produced by Moustache.

In fact, if it feels a little like a train carriage, that’s no coincidence. “My aim is to make you travel a little bit,” Mazouz says. The diner nods not only to his Algerian roots but to the classic French brasserie, with yellow glass screens between the booths that line one wall, and a row of framed mirrors. “That’s what I do,” he says. “I take lots of bits of other places that already exist, and mix them together.” The dishes on the menu are drawn from the Mediterranean shore, from French bouillabaisse to Tunisian brick of meat and eggs to an Italian green breakfast frittata. 

But it’s perhaps his myriad friendships that lead to the almost mythical idiosyncrasy of his space. Stairs leading to the toilets are decorated with flowers, stars, and other imaginings by 37-year-old French-Chinese artist Yué Wu, and Mazouz enlisted the help of LA-based creative agency WP&A, run by partners Willo Perron and Brian Roettinger, the team behind Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty show and Travis Scott’s performance at his Astroworld Festival last year. Together they collaborated on all design elements with Mouzaz, including the graphic design of menus, plates, matchboxes, and more.

Mazouz would be quite within his rights to describe himself as a creative director, too. But he still prefers the designation of shopkeeper. “That’s what I am!” he insists. “I’ve learnt to do everything along the way—tiling, plumbing, carpentry, psychiatry, food.” He’s also learned the art of reinvention. Now that Mo Diner is all in place, Mazouz will head to Paris. There he has acquired a building adjacent to the courtyard of his three Paris outposts, 404, Derriere, and Andy Wahloo, and he intends to turn it into apartments. “They will be for rent—long term, short term. But they will be another part of me, another part of my Momo world.”

(Images courtesy Mo Diner)

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