It may be early on a rainy Sunday morning but it doesn’t dampen my excitement that at last I made it back to the wonderful Moro for a meal last night – all in the line of blog duty, you understand! I’ve for many years said that my two favourite restaurants are Moro and my local A Cena; but then of course there’s the lovely Cinnamon Kitchen which I’ve lately come to know, and that perennial favourite haunt of your Single Gourmet Traveller, Joe Allen – how is a girl to choose? But certainly going back to Moro last night was a very special outing.
You may gather from my choices that I prefer to eat in relaxed and informal settings, albeit with a sophisticated edge. And in this preference, Moro fits the bill wonderfully. It’s a bustling environment and going inside is more like entering a pub than a restaurant, but then you adjust your eyes to take in the wonderful large vase of flowers, the kilim-covered cushions nestling into the walls at the back of the seating, reflecting the roots of its Moorish cuisine and the exotic flavours of Spain and North Africa, and you realise this isn’t a local pub after all. It has to be said it can be quite noisy, but we were given a table by the window and this was perfect. We ate early, 7 o’clock, but the restaurant was filling fast and most of the time we were there, there was some kind of queue with people waiting not only for tables but a stool at the bar where you can enjoy just some tapas if that’s what you prefer. The service was, as always, excellent. The waiter coming promptly, bringing drinks and bread quickly, offering to explain the menu if we needed (and sometimes some help is needed there).
Situated in Exmouth Market, near Clerkenwell and Sadlers Wells, it at first seems an unlikely location for a restaurant selling some of the best food in London. However, Exmouth Market is a lively hub of artisan activity with a village atmosphere and a food market every weekday. The location reflects the community spirit of Moro and the unshowy nature of its chef-proprietors, Sam and Sam Clark. Read their gorgeous Moro East book about their allotment in East London, their sharing of foods and recipes in the local community, and you realise that what drives them is their passion for food rather than a business enterprise.
Ah … the books. Well, I have spoken of these before … well, two of them (I must buy the third!). When I insisted on putting both The Moro Cookbook and Moro East into my own Top Ten Cookery Books, my son (who is another Moro fan) said it was cheating. But what’s to cheat about it! I use these two books more than any other books in my 200+ collection. They have so many of those little coloured sticky labels sticking out of the top and sides that I’ll have to index the labels soon. Come summer, we’ll be barbecuing a la Moro all the time: those wonderful rich and earthy marinades with cumin and smoked paprika, a brilliant Grilled Chicken Wings with Tahini. In fact, only last week, their lamb marinade wrapped itself around my half leg of lamb for Spicy Sunday Supper. Friends have rung me up after meals to ask for the recipe for Beetroot Salad with Pistachio Sauce or Feta, Chicory and Orange Salad. If I live by any cookery books, it is these.
The menu last night was full of such wonderful and appealing things it was hard to choose. Should I have the Carrot and Caraway Puree with Feta, Pine Nuts, Mint and Crisp Bread to start, or maybe Agridulce Baby Onions on Toast with Panceta Iberica? In fact, I opted to begin the meal with Salt Cod Carpaccio with Broad Beans – as did Jenny, while Robert opted for Gambas y Patatas Alinadas.
The bread that came first was a little star on its own. A chewy sourdough bread that tastes out of this world. Now, I have to admit I’m a great lover of good bread but this is extraordinarily good bread. So good, we had to ask for more, even though I was conscious that I shouldn’t fill myself up on it with so many lovely things to come. It came with a little dish of olive oil and a small bottle to top up, so we didn’t have to ask for more. Moro are good at these little touches. They also thoughtfully provided a large jug of tap water too. The salt cod carpaccio was delicious (and there’s even a recipe for it in Moro East). The cod retaining just the right amount of its saltiness, almost swimming in a bed of olive oil and lemon juice, the fresh bite of the fresh mint cutting through and sweet little broad beans.
If the starters were excellent, the main courses were stunning. We each chose different ones. Jenny went for Charcoal Grilled Lamb with Date and Parsnip Salad and Pumpkin Pilav; Robert had Wood Roasted Pork with Charcoal Grilled Leeks and Potatoes steamed with Peppers; I had Sea Bass steamed in Romesco with Prawns and Sprouting Broccoli. I partly chose mine because one of my favourite recipes from The Moro Cookbook is Romesco de Peix – Fish Stew with Peppers, Almonds and Saffron and I wanted to see how it was really meant to be cooked. My own attempts have turned out very well (Moro recipes are not only good to read but very reliable too!), but this dish was just wonderful. It’s the kind of dish you want to eat slowly and savour; to never end. We all liked our choices so much we were happily sharing, tasting each others.
The portions are quite big – not overwhelmingly huge, but a good size and thus we were quite full. But how can one be in a restaurant as wonderful as Moro and forgo the chance of a fabulous dessert? Especially when they are as enticing as Malaga Raison Ice Cream, or Yogurt Cake with Pistachios and Pomegranate, or Rosewater and Cardamon Ice Cream? Jenny suggested we share but Robert immediately picked up – it must have shown on my face! – that it looked as if I wanted one all to myself.
I went for Seville Orange Tart that was a kind of Tarte au Citron but with those slightly tart, special tasting Seville Oranges flavouring it. The custard was so light and soft I was slightly in awe of how they’d managed to get it like this; it was just gorgeous. The pastry on both tarts was incredibly light and thin and lovely – Jenny said I had to taste her pastry; it was that kind of pastry – taste it to believe it. I also had a little spoonful of their Chocolate and Apricot Tart which was very good too.
We could have happily sat on for hours, it was so cosy there but we’d been told they’d need the table back at 9 and we could see the queue getting longer by the minute. The bill for three – three courses plus bottle of wine – came to £128, which I think for a meal of this quality is astonishingly good. All the more reason to go back again soon …