Does Joburg's Momo Soko live up to the hype?
The little sister of Momo Bauhaus, this Illovo eatery serves up Asian favourites, tapas style
Social media hype around Momo Soko, the latest modern Asian restaurant on the Oxford Road strip, has been huge.
Since opening its doors this winter, the little sister to Momo Baohaus in Greenside has spilled out onto the walkway of the shopping centre it's located in and become so popular it's impossible to get in without a booking.
It's easy to understand the fuss, but the surprise is that it's less about the food and more about the owners being able to successfully hook into Jozi's casual dining experiences.
Most noticeable are reinvented classics of Asian favourites presented in a tapas-style menu - they beg a try, and some convivial sharing.
The owners, two brothers born to Taiwanese migrant parents, are hands-on and have a can-do attitude - that's five points right there for attention and effort.
The tiny space seats about 30 but has unfussy décor with finishes like gorgeous crockery and a simple array of trendy lighting - very urban, no-nonsense styling.
The menu is made up of five main sections and include the likes of baos, the steamed, soft white buns, and reimagined Momo Soko-styled as a kind of fluffy taco filled with everything from tempura prawn to teriyaki beef and roast duck.
There's also the inclusion of the trendy Hawaiian food favourite of poke (pronounced poh-keh) bowls of rice or field greens topped with a variety of everything from raw, cubed Norwegian salmon to marinated tofu, soft-boiled eggs, Korean staple of kimchi, seaweed, edamame beans and yellow daikon.
The soko items, which are barbeque-style skewers, include grilled shitake mushrooms in miso butter and Momo Soko's "Kilimanjaro", grilled chicken in a chilli/cumin/ginger spice.
There were a few winners like their firecracker chicken and the mushroom skewers.
You've also got to love the inventiveness and sense of play in dishes like salmon ceviche tacos and popcorn tea - the Japanese green tea with roasted brown rice.
Momo Soko has a promising breakfast menu too, because the offerings are not run-of-the-mill. Asian-inspired options include Japanese eggs flavoured with mirin, soy and sesame as well as a breakfast bao along with fluffy folded eggs filled with pastrami, hoisin, pickled cucumber and spring onion.
The let-downs though are that the menu items have an over-reliance on sweet-sticky everything thanks to a lot of hoisin and teriyaki (and a heavy hand on sesame seed sprinkles, too).
It masks what could be cleaner flavours of stand-out ingredients and some spot-on cooking techniques.
This is a menu not about mesmerising taste buds. Its delight is in play and reinvention.
The brothers say the menu is inspired by the food they loved eating growing up: fun foods typical of Taipei street-style cooking.
Add to this their take on Asian mix and match and a vibe that's modern and urban, and it sounds exactly like what many a Johannesburger is looking for on a plate right now.
What to eat: Take a few friends and share their tapas-sized plates of bao buns, soko - or skewers, or have a more substantial Momo bowl - all served on a base of rice, noodles or wokked greens.
What to drink: Anything of your choice since they don't have a liquor licence so you can BYOB without paying a corkage fee.
Who you'll see: It's located between 86 Public and Beefcakes in the Illovo Muse Centre so it's halfway between Sandton and the more funky suburbs of Melville, Parkhurst and Greenside - a mixture of hipsters and Sandtonites.
The vibe: It's laid back and contemporary with friendly service and hosts who'll do what they can to please.
Must do: It's already really busy, so try and remember to book.
Address: 198 Oxford Road, Illovo. Opening times are Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner. On Wednesday to Sunday breakfast is also served from 7.30am. Call 011-268-6182.
• This article was originally published in The Times