The Great She Elephant does not so much celebrate her birthdays as rue them. She suggested Moro (Exmouth Market, Farringdon, London, 020 7833 8336) as the venue for this year’s quiet lunchtime wake for lost youth. I’m always happy to oblige – GSE has fantastic taste in restaurants.
Moro is a restaurant specialising in southern Spanish food with a strong Moroccan influence, run by the Clarks, a married couple who, confusingly, are both called Sam. It’s been going strong for ten years now, and shows no sign of slowing or losing popularity. Tapas is available all day at the bar, while in the restaurant itself you’ll find a menu that changes weekly, showcasing seasonal produce. (The menu for the week is available at Moro’s excellent website, so if you’re like me and mildly obsessive about what you eat for lunch you can start to decide what you want to order days before you visit.)
The dining room is all stark wood and zinc, with a real feeling of bustle contributed to by the lightning-fast, extravagantly tattooed servers. Moro wins extra points for offering tap water alongside the bottled stuff, and for wordlessly topping up the jug when we’d finished (it was a hot, hot day). Although all these hard surfaces make for a noisy dining experience, especially when the restaurant is full, it’s a lovely atmosphere for lunch, especially if you can get a table near the window, overlooking the busy street, or one at the back where you can see into the kitchen. The wine list, mostly Spanish, is really interesting, and you’ll find a near-exhaustive list of sherries to sip as an aperitif. And somehow, despite the restaurant’s exotic menu and massive popularity, they manage to keep the prices sane.
I started with one of my favourite dishes in the world: sweetbreads. Moro’s were glorious little nuggets, dusted in a seasoned flour and fried to a rustling crispness outside, with nuttily soft middles. A cardamom and preserved lemon dressing tied them to chargrilled artichoke bottoms and left me feeling like I’d just eaten an angel. GSE’s cuttlefish was carefully braised over a long period with sherry, until it was soft and toothsome. A broad bean salad, made from beans so young and tender that they didn’t need removing from their skins, provided a great foil in texture and flavour.
If you see the words ‘charcoal grilled’ on the menu, order that dish. GSE’s lamb, which came with a pea and farika pilaf and pistachio sauce, was delicious; pink and sweet in the centre and charred on the outside. I asked for the vegetable mezze platter, which you can see at the top of the page. Hummus, an aubergine purée, a spoonful of a Syrian lentil dish, more of those baby broad beans, French beans in a yoghurt sauce and Imam Bayaldi (stuffed aubergine) were clustered around a remarkable perfumed, shredded beetroot dish which was flavoured with pistachio and fragrant rose water. I felt the Imam Bayaldi would have been tastier served at a cooler temperature (it and the French beans were hot, while all the other mezze were at room temperature), but this is getting into seriously picky territory. A flat bread, baked in the restaurant and filled with crushed nuts, was served alongside to dip into the mezze, along with some sweet and peppery radishes and other crudités, and a spicy pickled pepper.
These are enormous portions, and this rich, very positively flavoured food is deliciously, satisfyingly filling. We paused for a while and then opted to share a dessert (and I’m glad we did; it was very large and again, wonderfully rich). This yoghurt cake with pistachios and pomegranates was like a deconstructed, Moorish lemon-meringue pie. Moist sponge nestled against a frothy lemon sabayon, and more of those lovely perfumey flavours (this time from scented pistachio and heady pomegranate) underscored the whole thing.
Just walking into this room full of the smell of bread and charcoal is a treat. Eating there’s positive bliss.