Moro has long been hailed as the Spanish Food Mecca in London, even though they don't really serve Spanish food, or at least not pure bred. Founders Sam and Sam Clarke spent years travelling through Spain and Morocco before opening a restaurant celebrating Moorish cuisine in 1997. Everyone I have spoken to so far has warmly recommended this place and the "Moro" cookbooks are flying off the shelves, so I came with high expectations.
Upon entering the locale on Exmouth Market I thought I had come to the wrong place, were it not for the sign over the door - I had envisaged a décor more like Momo's: warm and exotic, candle-lit, an abundance of red and wood... I don't know what I'd been dreaming up there, but it certainly wasn't what greeted me here.
Moro's interior is very basic, you could even call it sterile. White-washed walls and small tables with rather uncomfortable chairs, standing almost too close for comfort. More like a Spanish tapas bar, maybe, but without the wood shavings on the floor. But I wouldn't let the design of the restaurant ruin my evening, after all, we had come for the food. For more than a week, I had been craving tapas at the thought of going there with my friend Jeanne (and our partners), so the real disappointment came when I looked at the menu: tapas are only available when seated at the bar, and strictly off limits if you have a dinner reservation. Where's the sense in that??? I was drooling over the tapas menu on the blackboards while browsing the menu: a one-pager with a selection of six starters, six mains and four desserts.
I decided on Mojama with fresh pinto beans baked with tomato (£6.50) and thoroughly enjoyed the smoky taste of the fish and perhaps even more the comforting pinto beans... if only all baked beans could be like this! The only person at the table not going for Mojama was my husband - he had chosen a plate of serrano ham with padrón peppers, but sadly found it to be a bit of a let-down.
The real disappointment came in the form of our mains, though. A grilled red mullet (£18) with celery, preserved lemon and olives (where are my carbs???) was a minute portion of the (whole) fish and tasted pretty bland, while the roast chicken (£16.50) I had ordered came in two slabs so big that you could have mistaken it for a turkey - a good thing though, as one of the pieces was cut in a way that it was barely edible, if you aren't a fan of bones, ligaments and other nasty things. The taste of the meat was nice, though - it must have been poached in a broth containing something sweet, like raisins, before being roasted or blow-torched, thus resulting in a succulent piece of chicken. The accompaniment was a stew of mixed peppers and courgettes with yoghurt, the vegetables standing out only through their sliminess and the sauce wasn't as tasty as it could have been.
The whole of the courses was presented in a way that even the home cook would be ashamed of - too much on a plate (or the plates too small), the food unlovingly slabbed onto the dish without regard for aesthetics. Something you might find acceptable at a road-side diner in the middle of nowhere, but not at a restaurant of this (supposed) calibre.
I felt so unsatisfied after my main that I foolishly decided to order a dessert: surely a chocolate and apricot tart would lift my spirits and let me forget all the quibbles I had about the main? Not so.
The pastry shell was rock-hard and the filling, well, filling, but clearly not made with fresh fruit, but apricot jam... if I wanted to mix some nutella with jam, I could have done so at home and save on the £5 for a tiny slice!
What I did like about the place was the open kitchen, a positive sign that the chef has nothing to hide, and the big rough-cut slices of home-made bread, quite charred on the outside. And the fact that despite the double-seating policy, we weren't actually rushed out when our time had come. Or is the fact that there wasn't actually a second booking for the table on a Friday night in a busy town like London just another indicator that Moro is going downhill and fast? Moorish it may be, but moreish it ain't!
34 - 36 Exmouth Market
London EC1R 4QE
Tel: +44 (0)20 7833 8336
Fax: +44 (0)20 7833 9338