Sunday, 11 August 2013

Restaurant review: Moro

"Across the table, the chef had taken inspiration from Spain's imperial past and stopped off in Latin America for a ceviche of sea trout with pickled seaweed and cucumber."

As we all know there are very few certainties in life. Death and taxes are oft-quoted as being the only two, but I think I can come up with a couple more to add to that list.

  1. My girlfriend, VD, will get too drunk on her birthday night out and I will have to take her home in a taxi before midnight.
  2. ....hmm, actually I think that's about it!
Ok, so maybe that was harder than I thought. Certainties are even more difficult when it comes to restaurants, especially one that will guarantee you a good night out. Sure, there are plenty of great places where you will be fed meals of superb quality, amid convivial surroundings and friendly, but not too friendly staff. 

However, consistency is king and there are not that many places where you will get dealt a royal flush on every trip. The waiter's in a bad mood because he's just been dumped; the head chef is away; they've just had a clear out of the fridge and today's fish special ain't that fresh, etc, etc. I'm sure I don't need to labour the point: good restaurants have off days. Here's the thing though, the very good ones don't and these my friends are the ones you keep in your back pocket for that special occasion when failure is not an option. 

Therefore, and you've guessed where I am heading here, when it came to choosing where to take VD to celebrate her recent birthday I knew failure was definitely not an option. I had a couple of ideas, but for a fun time on a sultry summer's evening there was only one place I could trust, Moro on Exmouth Market in Clerkenwell. 

As the name suggests, Moro takes its inspiration from the food of Spain, North Africa and the Middle East. It is run by husband and wife team Sam and Sam Clark, is a regular fixture in lists of London's best restaurants and consequently I have eaten there on several occasions.

We pitched up after a sunny stroll through the back streets of Farringdon and were swiftly ushered through the early evening throng by the kindly maitre d'. Who didn't even demure when asked to take care of a bunch of flowers the size of a small car (not my doing!) and went off to deposit them in the walk-in fridge.

The light and airy room has a bar down one side with stools for you to sit at and down a couple of sherries and a plate of jamon iberico. At the back is the kitchen with its famous wood fired oven, and everywhere else there are simple wooden tables and chairs packed with people having a jolly good time. It has the kind of the buzz that you only find in among the happy and contented - the Friday of the Lords test match or a theatre audience just before the curtains up (how bloody middle class does that make me sound!?).

I swiftly ordered a glass of manzanilla and got stuck in to their sourdough bread, which arrived unasked for but was not unappreciated. The menu is concise and appealing, so it didn't take much going over before I could return my attention to the bread and wine.

A salad of pigeon, caramelised figs  and crisped chick peas arrived just in time to prevent me completely ruining my appetite via a third piece of sourdough. The pigeon was as pink as the pomegranate seeds, the figs caramelised to the point of collapse and the (normally bland) chick peas astonishingly good after an immersion in the deep fryer. An assembly job this might have been, but when the ingredients were perfectly cooked and working in harmony towards a higher goal, then who cares?

Across the table, the chef had taken inspiration from Spain's imperial past and stopped off in Latin America for a ceviche of sea trout with pickled seaweed and cucumber. Not a typically Moorish dish therefore, but the sea trout had been treated handsomely and had been only lightly 'cooked' by the acid in the marinade. Slightly anaemic next to the vibrant pigeon salad, but assured cooking nevertheless.

To succeed the salad I had the sea trout ceviche's Anglo-Saxon older brother  - a muscular tranche of wood roasted sea trout with wilted gem lettuce, sorrel and brown shrimps. A plate of food that sounds so perfect in conception that it would have been a crime to pass it over. Perfect in conception and in the eating too: the trout expertly cooked, the shrimps sweet and the wilted gem reminding me that I don't cook with lettuce enough. All of this was presided over and pulled together by a pond green splodge of zesty wilted sorrel.

As with the starter, I had the best of the main courses, but with less august company VD's roasted lamb loin with fattoush and pistachio would have been the star of the show. The lamb was juicily pink and the fattoush (a salad made with crisped pita bread, tomato, cucumber, radishes and sumac) acted as a sharp counterpoint. A "taste sensation" apparently and you can't ask for much more than that.

Moro's most celebrated dessert is a yoghurt cake with pistachio and pomegranate seeds. Half cake, half souffle, it drapes itself over the plate like a WAG on the arm of a premiership footballer. Rich and creamy with a hint of lactic acidity, I would have enjoyed it much more if I hadn't stuffed myself with the preprandial bread and finishing was rather a chore.

Sat waiting for the maitre d' to collect the flowers from the walk in fridge, I thought there aren't many places I'd rather be spending a sunny Friday evening. Alice Eve's boudoir perhaps, but that's about it. The bill came to £130, which is a lot, but we did have plenty of wine to wash down the grub and when you have such a good time I don't mind (too much). Don't delay therefore and head down to Exmouth Market sooner rather than later or word will have got out! If you don't like it come and see me and I'll refund your bill.

Moro, 34-36 Exmouth Market, London, EC1R 4QE

020 7833 8336

Open for lunch Monday to Sunday and for dinner Monday to Saturday

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