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Monday, 18 April 2011

Moro, 34-36 Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell

There are a couple of reasons why you might spend three and a half hours over one meal in a restaurant. But on a midweek night, with work the next morning, it’s unlikely to be because you want to linger long, indulging yourself over a slow-burning tasting menu, quaffing big wines and luxuriating as the late evening stretches.

At Moro, everything took too long. The table was booked for 7.30, for six people. We’d all arrived by about 7.50, admittedly a little later than ideal. Our order was taken at about 8.15. Our starters arrived around 8.45, mains at 9.30, dessert menus (after some prompting) at about 10.05, desserts at 10.30, and the bill sometime after 10.45. We were in no particular rush, fortunately.

Service apart, Moro is a decent restaurant, capable of real excellence, though not consistently enough to be truly great. My starter, a spiced farika (grain), veal and chopped almond soup, was a meaty, earthy concoction, smooth, rich and filling, but with a pleasing almond crunch that prevented it becoming too much. At £7.50, it was the cheapest first course on the menu, though that belies its quality.

The other starters varied from the brilliant (pigeon breast and piquillo pepper with garlic puree) to the merely adequate (a white and green asparagus and egg dish that was overwhelmed by dill). Morel mushroom and prawn revueltos seemed an odd idea, but the scrambled egg mix somehow worked, while butifarra sausage and warm grelos (turnip tops) didn’t.

Mains were similarly variable. Mine, wood-roasted kid with garlic and mashed potatoes, was an excellent reminder of why we should cook more goat in this country. Intense animal flavour combined with a superbly crispy skin and comforting mash made the £19.50 it cost seem reasonable.

Four out of the six mains available were ‘wood roasted’ on the menu, when roasted might have done. I do understand that they want to advertise the woodiness of the roast, but if you start the majority of your menu descriptions with the same phrase, there’s a danger of overemphasis, making customers think that the importance of their ‘wood roasted grey mullet’ and ‘wood roasted kid’ lies in wood roastedness, not meat.

Wood roasted pork with artichokes, chickpeas, sherry, and spinach was very nicely cooked and generous, but it seemed like discrete dishes (chickpeas and pork) that had been thrown together without a thought for whether that was a good idea. Wood roasted chicken with caraway, yoghurt and lentils, was beautifully soft but rather underpowered, neither especially woody nor very interestingly spiced. The caraway shadowed the chicken, when it should have taken it on. A gigantic mixed vegetable mezze was better, with notably excellent beetroot pilau, crispy flatbread and assorted tasty lentil numbers.

I shared a cheese plate in lieu of dessert, and it was marvellous. Various Spanish treats (especially the wonderful blue Picos de Europa) were the right temperature and the right taste. A chocolate and apricot tart was similarly inspired and lighter than expected, while a rhubarb and rosewater fool topped things off ideally.

With a couple of bottles of red and one of champagne (it was a birthday celebration, after all), the bill came in at about £55 per head, including a small discount for the tardy service. Food alone was about £35 each. For what I ate, that seemed reasonable, but I know others disagreed. If you pick well at Moro, then you’ll have an excellent meal. But really, with its reputation and pricing, it should be doing a little better.

Phil Letts’ take: 7/10

Moro on Urbanspoon

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