There's a confidence about the food at Moro that's been there from the first day they fired-up the wood-burning oven and opened the restaurant doors. From your first taste of their distinctive bread, the wood fired oven imparting an almost liquorice flavour, you sense these people know what they are about. It's a confidence borne out of apprenticeships at the River Cafe for both husband and wife Sam and Sam Clark. Having learned all about the very best food of Italy from Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, almost 15 years ago they took the decision to pursue their own shared passion for Spanish and Muslim Mediterranean food. After much travel and many experiences Moro was born to marry the robust style of Spanish food with the exotic lightness of the Muslim cooking they encountered. As at The River Cafe, the emphasis is on good ingredients simply cooked.
So why have I been absent from Moro for so long? The fault is mine. I have a bad habit. I don't like to pre-book a meal if there is the option of eating at a convivial bar. I like spontaneity, though I seem to be in the minority on this judging by many of the food critics. OK, so sometimes you're going to be turned away, and that's disappointing, but it's not the end of the world. Mostly it works out. That said, after failing to secure seats three times in a row at the 'no-bookings' bar I flounced out. Well, more fool me. A return this week (and I still hadn't learned my lesson so I didn't book) reminded me just how good this noisy, vibrant, unfussy restaurant is. The long, narrow room is furnished plainly, a splendid bar running virtually the whole length of the room. An open kitchen spans almost the full width at the far end. Moro engenders loyalty and a sense of family. Some of the staff have been here many years, and so have many of the diners.
The wood-fired oven not only bakes the daily loaves but some of the dishes too. The menus are seasonal, currently starters might include a Lebanese spring vegetable soup, Salt cod with broad beans and mint or English Asparagus with almond sauce and sherry vinegar. On our visit, mains embraced Wood roasted chicken with méchouia and chermoula, Charcoal grilled mackerel with tomato, celery, lemon and red chilli salsa with fried potatoes, and there was a Mixed vegetable mezza. The dish I swooned over was not Imam Bayildi, it was a plate of Wood roasted pork with lentils, asparagus, peas and broad beans with grilled onion salad and thyme. Succulent meat, melting, crispy crackling, the sweetest of onions and a mix of lentils and vegetables pepped-up with a stunning sherry vinegar sauce. It didn't stop there. A rosewater and cardomom ice cream, made with condensed milk served with poached rhubarb and mulberries and scattered with preserved rose petals. It was a heavenly assemblage and made the Malaga raisin ice-cream with Pedro Ximinez seem ordinary - but only by comparison. Other desserts on offer included Yoghurt cake with pistachios and pomegranate, Chocolate and apricot tart and Alfonso Mango (a rare fruit this year thanks to poor weather).
Service was as good as ever and the wine list as solid and interesting as I remember. You can also eat small dishes at the bar for most of the day. A three course meal with a glass of wine and service will cost you around £45. It's not cheap but you won't come away hungry, and may not even make it to dessert - though I will find the rosewater and cardomom ice cream dish hard to resist if it's on offer next time. Oh yes, there will be a next time, and I might even book ahead to avoid disappointment.
London EC1R 4QE
Tel: +44 (0)20 7833 8336
No bookings taken for the bar
Evie's blog: Saffron Strands - A more detailed version of this article