A stalwart of the London restaurant milieu since 1997, Moro have been consistently cooking some of the best food in town since they fired up their wood oven. The white heat of new London restaurant openings may be hotter than it has ever been, but it’s comforting to know that there are still some constants that will still be there when the latest restaurant trend crashes and burns. We need some constancy in this fluctuating maelstrom of restaurant openings.
Sam and Sam Clark shared a love of the Southern Mediterranean and ended up marrying and taking a camper van through Spain, Morocco and the Sahara — the menu has reflected the influences of their travels from the very beginning. Cookbooks followed, chefs and critics raved, and Moro soon settled into the role of being a neighbourhood restaurant that is consistently good, an antidote to the constant desire amongst trend seeking scenesters to always be chasing the new, the latest.
Exmouth Market was once a stubbornly unlovely spot, a windswept drag of mediocre restaurants, a slightly depressing and quiet strip off Rosebery Avenue, moments away from the bar and restaurant infested Upper Street near Angel tube. It was still an ugly spot when Moro bravely arrived in 1997, but in the last few years the surrounding area has more lustre and life buzzing around it, the regeneration of Farringdon station helping to speed things along. The arrival of coffee roaster and restaurant Caravan on the corner of Exmouth Market was a big marker, and with the Quality Chop House seconds away on Clerkenwell Road now re-born as a place of serious merit, there are more than a few reasons to spend an evening in the area.
One of the most enduring memories of a meal at Moro has always been the very first morsel offered as soon as you take your seat: the wonderful bread. There’s a surfeit of sourdough bread now in London, but there’s something about the chewy, flavoursome bread at Moro that trumps most of the crowd, a quality that speaks of a sourdough ‘starter’ of considerable age that’s given birth to thousands of loaves in their oven. Mopping up good Spanish olive oil as you read the menu is a necessary and welcome start to any meal here; and there is plenty on the menu to pique the interest.
Braised peas and wild garlic leaves with prawns on toast
Cuttlefish, grilled pepper and cauliflower salad with pine nuts and mojo rojo
Braised peas, wild garlic leaves and prawns on toast (£8.50) was a great combination of sweet prawns with the subtle whiff of wild garlic, sourdough toast soaking up the juices. A standout starter was a supremely tender cuttlefish with a ‘mojo rojo’ red pepper sauce (£8.50), spectacularly colourful on the plate with cauliflower and pine nuts lurking beneath sumptuous curls of cuttlefish.
Charcoal grilled trout with panceta Iberico, hispi cabbage, lemon and capers
Main courses kicked things up another level. Charcoal grilled trout with ‘panceta Ibérico’, hispi cabbage, lemon and capers (£19.50) was the highlight of the evening. A trout fillet had been draped with some opalescent ‘panceta’, sweet and nutty Ibérico that had melted obscenely (in the best possible way) over the trout, each mouthful a delirious combination of smoky trout and salty pig fat — back of the net Moro, back of the net.
Wood roasted pork with hazelnut picada and wood roasted vegetables
Wood roasted pork with hazelnut picada (a Catalan inspired paste involving nuts, bread and herbs) and wood roasted vegetables (£18.50) had some fantastic strips of crunchy crackling, with juicy pork not afraid to be pink where it mattered.
The wine list used to have a broader remit covering much of the Mediterranean, but now focuses much more tightly on wines from the Iberian peninsular. We try a zippy Verdejo from Jose Parientes with the prawn and pea dish, and a fuller bodied Portuguese Alvarhino from Reguengo de Melgaço, a great foil with the cuttlefish and ‘mojo rojo’. The well known Rioja from Marques de Murrieta is a fantastic wine to try, even more so when it’s offered by the glass.
Yoghurt cake with pistachios and pomegranate
Rosewater and cardamom ice cream
Yoghurt cake with pistachios and pomegranate seeds arrived looking intimidatingly huge, but a first spoonful proved delightfully light and airy, the pop of pomegranate seeds adding a zesty hit here and there. Rosewater and cardamom ice cream carried the scent of the Orient and was a soothing finish.
The bar at Moro is always worth dropping in for. Grab a stool, order a knee janglingly dry Manzanilla sherry and some Marcona almonds, and follow that with a plate of grilled chorizo and a slice of tortilla with eggy goodness still moist and gooey at its centre — simple pleasures, the way the Spanish can do so well.
On the way out we see that Sam Clark (Mrs) is in the building keeping an eye on things, a reminder that the owners are still intimately involved in everything going on here, still guiding proceedings — the consistency of Moro over 16 years is not mere good fortune. Noted cook and author Nigel Slater has been a fan from when Moro first opened, and he sums it up perfectly: “Modest, gracious, almost embarrassed by the success of their offspring, the Sams – as they are known – are still there, cooking their odd, quietly exciting food: their gorgeous tarama, their slow pork roasts and their walnut sauces, their sour breads and rosewater-scented ices…”
Moro is a restaurant that I’ve always been excited to go back to. It’s good to know it’s there when you need it, when you want somewhere that will deliver the right experience on every single visit. Next time you’re dashing out to the latest hot new opening in London, pause for breath; there’s a restaurant in Exmouth market that has been doing its thing brilliantly for years. It will still be here when you need it.
34-36 Exmouth Market, London, EC1R 4QE
Online booking available here