Sunday, 19 February 2012


A brief respite in the Istanbul-induced reveries to report on a fantastic meal much closer to home.

Tickets to see the flamenco virtuoso Carmen Cortes at Sadlers Wells put us just a few blocks away from Morito, the tapas bar opened by Sam and Sam Clarke of Moro fame. By barrelling down the stairs at the end of the performance, we managed to arrive just in time to secure two seats at the bar.

Located on the ever-gentrifying Exmouth Market (where I noted, however, that the tattoo parlour and pie and eel shop seem to be just hanging on), Morito is carved out of what was once a Spanish deli, Brindisa. It’s a tight squeeze, maybe 35 covers, with a fair amount of jostling and rearranging required for servers to get through. The benefit to this, though, is that it’s very easy to see dishes as they come out of the open kitchen. Those sitting at the bar can practically reach over and help themselves.

The menu mixes tapas standards—pimientos de padron, tortilla, salt cod croquetas—with an unusually wide selection of vegetable-driven options and some North African and Eastern Mediterranean selections. This more or less mirrored my expectations, the mother-ship having widened its reach in recent years to take in ingredients like pomegranate molasses, freekah and harissa, while retaining a focus on Spanish flavours and seasonal produce.

Our order came quickly, and we consumed it nearly as fast. The tortilla was textbook standard, creamily-textured, with yielding bits of potatoes and some slippery peppers. Salt cod croquetas with aioli also contained no surprises, but were completely without fault. Fried artichokes gave another chance to eat more delicious aioli, while the combination of smoked paprika and perfect frying made the vegetables utterly moreish.

Cauliflower was sautéed with pine nuts, raisins and a good pinch of saffron, melting on the interior and crispy-crunchy outside. A Turkish salad combined super-fresh tomato, cucumber and herbs with a slick of excellent yogurt. But the best dish—the one that has you asking the waiter how on earth they made it, and vowing to return post-haste—was simply described on the menu as “spiced lamb, aubergine, yogurt and pine nuts.” What it turned out to be was a sublimely rich and smoky baba ganoush-type dip, made creamy with yogurt, topped with shreds of lamb shank that had been slowly braised, then stripped off the bone and sizzled with warm spices and what the waiter described as “lots of butter.”

We scraped the plate with two types of bread, chunks of the excellent sourdough from Moro’s wood-fired oven, and char-edged flatbreads with the slightest bits of orange flower water. To wash it all down we had a very drinkable, crisp white, at £16 one of the best-priced bottles of restaurant wine I’ve seen in London for a long time.

Service follows the Moro model, informal but switched-on, and both knowledgeable and passionate about what’s coming out of the kitchen.

This may not be a place to linger, but it was warm and welcoming, with uniformly delicious and interesting food and very fair prices. It’s hard to think of many places which can match, much less improve, on that combination. And even with far fewer virtues, it would be worth going just for that lamb dish.

32 Exmouth Market
London EC1R 4QE
Tube: Angel or Farringdon
Open noon-11 pm Monday-Saturday; noon-4 pm Sundays
Bookings for lunch only.

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