It seems like a lifetime that Momo’s opened in Shrewsbury. It’s owner, the publishing and hospitality entrepreneur Martin Monahan, had been inspired by the success of the inaugural Shrewsbury Food Festival, which had given the town a shot in the arm and shown how passionate locals were about good quality food.
Buoyed by the passion of his then-Executive Chef, Chris Burt, a man whose love for Asian food knew no bounds, the restaurant blazed a trail, opening the doors to Japanese cuisine and successfully operating for some years.
Momo’s provided something different, a type of food that had been hard to come by in Shropshire, not just Shrewsbury, save for the exceptional Koo, in Ludlow, which had been led by an exceptional chef-patron.
The departure of Burt, a name change – it was once called Momo No Ki, but was rebranded Momo’s – and a revamp helped to keep the restaurant relevant among local diners while the menu was simplified with a focus on noodle and ramen dishes. It was made more user-friendly for kids and Monahan’s marketing excellence were brought to bear.
Momo’s is part of a string of restaurants owned by Monahan near to Shrewsbury’s Abbey. As well as his Japanese noodle bar, he has long provided sustenance, a meeting place and good times at the evergreen Peach Tree.
A restaurant that caters to all comers, The Peach Tree remains a destination of choice for many. Then there’s Havana Republic, the youngest in Monahan’s stable, and a restaurant that brings an essence of Cuba to Shrewsbury, with plenty of rum, a vibrant party atmosphere and finger lickin’ food.
The restaurants sit alongside one another and are served by the same kitchen. It was no surprise, therefore, that the effects of Covid-19 were to bring those operations ever-closer.
When I called in for a light supper, I found myself eating in The Peach Tree’s bar, rather than Momo’s. There was no disappointment in doing so; the Asian-influence of Momo’s was replaced by the cool, contemporary stylings of a light and airy space. On an afternoon when the temperatures were touching 30C, it was a pleasure to be somewhere slightly cooler, where a gentle breeze blew in through open doors.
Momo’s – and The Peach Tree – are Covid secure. They’ve quickly attracted their loyal regulars who have been quick to return for coffee and cake, beers and wines, appetising dinners and all-day casual dining.
Hand sanitisers were liberally placed throughout the venue, staff wore full-face Perspex masks, chopsticks were single use, as were menus.
The Momo’s team have paid attention to detail and are keeping their customers safe.
The menu is broken down into five sections – six if you include the perfectly-formed selection of items for kids.
There’s izakaya, featuring small, tapas-sized plates of fried stuff, dumplings and other light snacks.
Omakase are special noodle bowls, ramen soup bowls need no introduction, donburi are sticky rice dishes that are topped with protein while diners can also go off piste by pimping their own noodle dishes as they combine their favourite protein, carbohydrate and sauce.
I opted for two izakaya – light bites – plus a donburi. Starting with a plate of halloumi fries served with a chilli and coriander sauce alongside chicken katsu, it allowed me to eat around the menu. The halloumi fries were the highlight, though the chilli and coriander sauce was odd. It hadn’t quite split, though a wan sauce and puddle of settled sediment made for an unappetising accompaniment to the much-better fries.
They had been dipped in a light, flour batter and had a little crunch to go with the mild flavour.
The chicken katsu was mediocre. The sauce was indelicate – it was redolent of chip shop curry sauce, and there are probably many who wouldn’t object to that.
A separate mayo added richness to the dish.
The chicken, however, had been severely overcooked so that it was bone dry beyond its crispy coating of panko breadcrumbs. The advertised moistness was conspicuous by its absence.
My main had similar issues. A teriyaki pork bowl featured pork that was advertised as being crisp but was, in fact, dry like teak. Overcooked and unloved, thin slithers had been hardened and dried by overcooking.
An ample array of vegetables soaked in bulgogi were better – though the dish had more mixed messages than Boris Johnson’s Government.
I wasn’t sure why it was advertised as teriyaki when the sauce was, in fact, a Korean bulgogi.
The rice was awful. I ate one mouthful and couldn’t eat anymore. Still saturated in water, it had been overcooked like the pork and was watery and bordering on inedible.
All of the dishes were garnished in pea shoots, which made little sense. We’re in late summer when early season peas have long gone and adding a little British greenery to Asian dishes shows a lack of understanding and engagement on the part of the chef. It may have been fine ten years ago, but we’ve all moved on.
Service was magnificent. Two front of house staff moved deftly between tables, their youthful energy and desire to please put smiles on the faces of customers and they were good ambassadors for both The Peach Tree and Momo’s.
As more and more venues open, however, they’ll be left behind if they don’t shape up.
Momo’s remains a great idea that’s popular with locals, that offers a menu full of interest, excitement and pizzazz and that’s well serviced by well-intentioned and well-trained front of house staff.
The guys in the kitchen weren’t at their best when I visited, though no doubt they’ll get with the programme and step it up in short order.
We all have a bad day and two poor dishes out of three, with an indifferent sauce on the third, was the sort that we’d all like to forget.
Momo's, Abbey Foregate, Shrewsbury SY2 6AE Tel: 01743 281770 momosshrewsbury.co.uk