Midweek jaunts to town are a fairly rare treat, especially when most people are slaving away at work, and so in my book at least they should be enjoyed. Having managed to coax GG out of the office for the day, and after much discussion about what to do on a seasonable but rare sunny day, we set off to Exmouth Market to find Sam & Sam Clarke’s Moro for lunch. This Spanish-North African cross has been on my list of places to eat since I discovered their first cookbook a few years ago, and I relished the opportunity to find out what the things I have been cooking for years should actually taste like.
Exmouth Market itself, to a complete newcomer to the area, felt very village-like, and on a Tuesday lunchtime there were plenty of people enjoying the warm sun outside a multitude of restaurants, cafes and independent shops. The street could serve as a lesson in how to do urban gentrification – a once run down area that has easily outgrown it’s past, trendy but not even remotely edgy, the key to which seems to be a very unpretentious feel – which extends into Moro itself.
Despite a last-minute delay to our booking (it turns out that my navigation of unfamiliar London streets can leave a little to be desired), we were warmly welcomed by the staff, all of whom seemed genuinely happy and enthusiastic throughout the afternoon, which was especially helpful when it came to interpreting the menu – something that must be required by almost every diner, though there was no sign of it turning into a chore. The translations only served to make our decisions harder though, as every single item appealed, so we resorted to blindfolded pointing to settle on our choices.
I started with the Dressed Grelos with Mojama – turnip tops with a deliciously fresh dressing, serving as a bed for deliciously salty dried tuna, that was far meatier than I expected – a winning combination. GG went for the mouth-watering sounding Trinxat with crispy pancetta, a much more interesting Spanish version of bubble and squeak that was herby and flavoursome, and was the perfect antidote for a long walk from the tube.
The main courses on offer all sounded simple – wood roasted pork, chicken or sea bass, or charcoal grilled bream or lamb – but posed just as hard a choice as the starters. My charcoal grilled lamb with anchovy and paprika butter, braised spinach and lentils was an explosion of flavours that had a real wow-factor. The meat was pink and succulent, given a real bite by the anchovy and paprika butter, and nicely balanced by the aromatic and tender lentils – which would, I think, have convinced even the greatest of doubters of their virtue. GG’s wood roasted pork with new seasons’ garlic and onions cooked with Pedro Ximenez and mashed potato was similarly divine – an enormous portion that would satisfy even the hungriest of diners, the pork was juicy with a perfect thin edge of crackling. The sherry-caramelised onions and garlic were rich and soft, and combined with the light and fluffy mashed potatoes, matched the pork very well.
While we could quite happily have walked away completely full and satisfied at this point, we maintain the view that humans have a separate stomach reserved for puddings, and very much didn’t want to miss out on what promised to be another highlight. The Yoghurt cake with pistachios and pomegranate appeared, at first glance, to have been dropped onto the plate from some height, but turned out to be absolutely delicious, and bursting with flavours – reminding us to stop judging books by their covers. Seville Orange Tart was very bright and fresh tasting, and on deliciously light pastry, which helped me to avoid a Mr Creosote-esque moment at the end of an exceptional lunch.
The wine list is very Spanish-orientated and does very well at matching the food (there were some suggestions on the menu, also), and we washed our little feast down with a bottle of Sisquella (Clos Pons, 2011), that had a taste of early autumn fruits and a little citrus – an ideal accompaniment to everything we ate. Overall a long and lazy lunch came to £120 for three generous courses and wine, which seems perfectly reasonable, for what you get. Moro gets my absolute recommendation – entirely focused on delivering exceptional food in a friendly environment, it is unpretentious (almost surprisingly, with such a good reputation), and a thoroughly enjoyable place to pass the time.
Moro, 34-36 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QE. 0207 833 8336.