We’re on the home stretch now: Halloween and Bonfire Night are in the past, Christmas is on the horizon. This review is published on Black Friday, a day many of us would prefer not to acknowledge. It all adds up to one thing – we are close to having survived another year of interesting times, of pay cuts and price rises, of soaring expenses and the spectre of Covid, still lurking in the background. The future is uncertain – for our electricity bills, for our weekly shop, for keeping global warming below 1.5C, for our Twitter profiles – but for now, we’re all still here. Group hug, anybody? Actually, scratch that: who else needs a drink?
The New Year is always a time to look ahead and make great plans, but as a perpetual glass half empty type I find this time of year is when I look back and can see all the things I didn’t achieve over the last twelve months – the pounds I didn’t lose, the money I didn’t save, the books I never finished and the exercises from my physio I always found very good reasons not to do. But I never mope for too long – the sweet release of the socialising season, the festive beers waiting to be drunk and all the people to catch up with soon sweep all of that away. Besides, by Christmas Eve ITV4 (yes, it’s a thing) is pretty much wall to wall Carry On films, and you can’t mope watching one of those. I can’t, anyway.
As we approach the end of the year I also find myself looking at my to do list here at the blog. Forget shopping days: there are only a handful of reviewing Fridays left til Christmas and so many places I’ve not made it to yet. So how do I decide what to prioritise for the tail end of the year? Should I go back and try one of the interesting places that have sprung up in Wokingham, or another of Reading’s new sushi joints? Is the Secret Santa present my readers really want a piece where I go to Jollibee and dutifully endure that weird spaghetti dish with chopped frankfurters in it? And how about that new kebab place on the edge of the Broad Street Mall, immortally described by the Reading Chronicle as “Slow-roast Dubai restaurant Donor and Gyros”?
But there’s a particular subsection of my list that I feel deserves particular attention as 2022 shambles to an end. At the start of this year, when the weather was shite and our booster jabs hadn’t kicked in, I was still reviewing takeaways. But I know that what people really want, especially now life is a little more as it was, are restaurant reviews. And there are a handful of places where I had decent takeaways over the past couple of years but have never returned to try out the full eating in experience, blind spots that I ought to rectify.
In some cases there are reasons for that – Banarasi Kitchen has recently left the Spread Eagle pub to be replaced by a new Indian kitchen called Bagheera, for instance. I probably would have gone to Osaka by now, but for the fact that they had a one star hygiene rating for four months over the summer. Palmyra, which did me a very nice takeaway in the spring of 2021, only takes cash which rules it out of contention. Cash only in 2022, after two years that have all but killed cash as a going concern. “Fuck that” grizzled Zoë, as we walked away from it recently.
But I also had a fantastic takeaway from the subject of this week’s review, little Momo 2 Go down the Oxford Road, back in February – so good, in fact, that I’ve ordered from them several times since. Surely it was time to try it in the flesh? So Zoë and I wandered over on a midweek night to pay it a long overdue visit.
It’s a small, simple place on that row of shops just before the Reading West bridge, and the inside was humble and unceremonious – the walls cheery yellow above and dove grey below a haphazardly painted dado rail. The name gave a pretty clear clue that a lot of their trade is takeaway – in total they have a dozen or so covers, and a little bar and counter made up to look like a little hut. A fish tank glowed in one corner, with a few anaemic denizens drifting around in it. But I liked the room – it had a certain warmth, and the condensation on the door made you feel cosy. We were the only customers eating in that night.
The menu fitted on a single laminated sheet of A4, and half of that was the drinks selection. So very compact all told, especially compared to the likes of Kamal’s Kitchen or Sapana Home, although with many of the options you get your choice of pork, chicken, lamb or buffalo. There was nothing even approximating to a curry, and I liked that a lot, that they didn’t compromise. A small selection of specials on a blackboard over the bar added a few more choices, but without making matters difficult. And nothing cost more than a tenner, with the momo in particular looking impressive value at around seven pounds for ten.
Much of the menu is about your starch of choice – momo, chow mein or fried rice – with a final section marked “sides” which includes many things which don’t sound like sides. So the best way to approach this menu, as with Nepalese food in general in my experience, is to treat it as a small plates menu and share as many things as you think you can manage. And that’s exactly what we did.
Trying to make our choices and discuss things with our waiter highlighted that things wouldn’t necessarily be straightforward. Our waiter was absolutely lovely and friendly, but it was quite a struggle to explain and to understand. I wasn’t sure if this was because his English wasn’t the best, or because he was very shy, or because he was helping out for the night. Maybe Momo 2 Go really does do most of its business through delivery apps. Whatever it was, although I really liked him we did have to ask a few things more than once and explain that, for example, asking what was in a dish was not the same as saying we’d like to order it. In the end, I put him out of his misery and just Googled a few of the dishes, because it was easier.
The first dish to come out was one of the vegetarian dishes, aloo nimki. I hadn’t got an awful lot of detail about it from the waiter, except that it was quite spicy, but it was very interesting and unlike anything I’ve tried before. The aloo is potato, of course, small cubes of waxy potato at that, but the nimki – crunchy strips of pastry – were what gave the dish interest and contrast. I worried they’d be soggy under the weight of all that gravy, but they kept their integrity perfectly and made every mouthful interesting. This dish wasn’t a looker, and I wouldn’t say it held my interest to the very end – Zoë gave up long before I did, so she didn’t experience just how spicy it was – but I’m very glad I tried it.
By this point, gladly, a couple of very generous mango lassis had come out of the kitchen, which went a long way towards cooling matters. And I have to say, Momo 2 Go do some of the best mango lassis I’ve had – fruity, substantial and ice cold. Counterintuitive to have them on a cold November night, perhaps, but still an absolute treat. We both had another, and each times you could hear a blender whizzing away in the kitchen out back. No corners were cut.
One of my favourite dishes to takeaway from Momo 2 Go is their sukuti chow mein and I’ve eaten it a fair few times this year to mark the end of the working week. So I entirely expected to love it, and was surprised when it fell a little short. Normally it’s packed with veg, light and impeccably cooked and studded with nuggets of chewy dried meat (I’m guessing it’s lamb, but I might be wrong). So what went wrong this time? A few things, I think. It was a little light on the veg, a little clumpy and stodgy, and a tiny bit burnt. And what was the slight cheesy note in the sukuti? I couldn’t place it, but I checked with Zoë and it wasn’t just me. “Maybe they’ve used a rub” was her guess.
Chicken fried rice, which I’ve always fancied but never had before from Momo 2 Go, was definitely the weakest dish. The veg in this might have been fresh, but the peas and the perfectly diced cubes of carrot didn’t feel it. It also didn’t feel like the rice had really been fried, as there wasn’t much in the way of crispy caramelisation, and what chicken there was was underwhelming. If you added a bit of the hot sauce it came with, it was almost interesting, but almost interesting isn’t saying enough. “It’s all a bit Bachelor’s Savoury Rice” said Zoë, and I had to agree. Mind you, she used to feel the same way about paella.
Fortunately, things improved from there. Momo 2 Go’s fried lamb momo are up there with the best I’ve had in Reading, and are enough of a reason to visit the restaurant in their own right. They were ten large, featherlight balloons of light, crunchy fried dough stuffed with a substantial amount of fragrant, exquisite minced lamb. Cut, dip, eat, sigh, repeat. Just bliss.
It’s an irony that the restaurant is called Momo 2 Go, because having had these many times as a takeaway and having finally eaten them in the restaurant, hot and fresh, straight from the kitchen, the absolute worst thing you could do to these beauties is to have them to go. They deserve to be eaten there and then, not kept waiting for a single minute more than necessary. And even though we were full at the end of our meal, we nearly ordered more. Reading back over these paragraphs, I haven’t even come close to explaining how much I loved them, but maybe a glimpse of the picture below will fill in the gaps left by my inadequate prose.
Last of all, we tried something from the specials board, chicken fry. Now normally when I’ve had chicken fry in, say, Sapana Home, it’s not really fried chicken. It’s chicken which may or may not have been fried served in a sticky sauce with peppers and onions, not a million miles in fact from the chilli chicken I often order in Nepalese restaurants.
So I was surprised to get exactly what I’d ordered but not what I’d expected: there, amid the neatly corrugated slices of carrot and cucumber were beautifully light, superbly crisp nuggets of chicken thigh. What was this doing in a Nepalese restaurant? I have no idea, but I wasn’t complaining – although I was rather nonplussed. But to judge it as fried chicken, it was a good dip and a little more seasoning in the coating away from perfect. Reasonably close, though.
There isn’t a lot more to say about Momo 2 Go. Our waiter had relaxed a bit by the end of our meal and seemed delighted that we’d enjoyed some of the dishes so much, especially the momo and the chicken. I felt a little sad that I hadn’t tried some of my other favourite takeaway dishes from the restaurant – chilli chicken, or their superlative chicken choila – but there’s only so much chicken any one person can order. And although we were the only customers that night there was a regular flow of delivery orders hitting the till and riders turning up with their insulated bags. Our meal – all that food and four mango lassis – came to fifty pounds, not including service.
I wish I’d liked Momo 2 Go even more than I did, but I hope you can tell from this review that even with the missteps and the dishes that didn’t entirely work on the night I found myself very much in their corner. The service may have been shy and diffident, but plenty of good restaurants have the occasional shrinking violet and it doesn’t stop them turning out superb food.
I can’t recommend all of Momo 2 Go’s dishes with qualification, but I can say this – go there for the momo. Go there before a night at the Nag’s, or go there on the way home if you live out that way. I would gladly do so any day of the week, and I’d try some of the other dishes because it’s hardly an expensive gamble. I don’t think Momo 2 Go have put their prices up this year, so I’m not entirely sure how they turn a profit, but they deserve to.
I sometimes get told off for comparing restaurants I review to their competitors, but I can’t think of a better way to put things in context. Kamal’s Kitchen remains, for me, the benchmark for Nepalese food with a range of dishes and interesting choices which can’t be equalled elsewhere in town: just be careful if he gets out his Nepalese moonshine. And for convenience in the centre and for consistency, Sapana Home still commands a great deal of affection.
But judged on the momo alone, I think Momo 2 Go might beat the lot. It would be easy to end this review saying “I loved the momo, I wasn’t sure about everything else”. But with hindsight, that was essentially my conclusion when I visited Sapana Home on duty back in 2014. And what happened after that? I pretty much ate there every month for the next three years.
Momo 2 Go – 7.0
172 Oxford Road, RG1 7PL