Morito – Exmouth Market
Posted on November 9, 2014
I’ve spent three weeks in Barcelona and had one good meal. Just one. I never went solely for the food but I’d certainly hoped for better.
I presumed the culinary nous of Ferran and Albert Adrià, chefs who had made the city famous for its cooking, would have trickled down through kitchen culture to even the most modest of eateries. But it wasn’t until the last night of my most recent visit I was finally wowed by a Spanish restaurant.
Fed up of wandering gothic alleyways and tourist-filled promenades for somewhere that didn’t have sad pictures of their food on laminated ‘cartas’ – phonebook-thick with 50 different languages – or pick pockets and street sellers probing you with more wandering hands than a hungry Galician octopus, I turned to the internet and afterwards wondered why I hadn’t done so earlier.
A quick look on TripAdvisor was all it took to find Joseph Pla’s eponymous restaurant, a stones throw from La Rambla – a road, itself, with all the culinary promise of a motorway service station. Restaurant Pla’s preservation in the labyrinthine streets of El Barri Gotic allowed its chefs to serve their inventive, modern cooking in peace and quiet to those who appreciated it; and those who could use a search engine.
I’ve learnt in large cities like Barcelona you can’t just expect to fall upon great cooking. It’s the editing teams on shows like Saturday Kitchen that are culpable of such deception. They piece together Rick Stein’s idyllic afternoons bobbing from one tapas bar to another omitting, I imagine, the scene where Rick, sweaty, stressed and slightly squiffy, loses Chalky in La Boqueria and regurgitates a rancid gambas before assaulting the producer with a camera tripod.
The good places are always so diluted amongst the shit they become impossible to find. You see somewhere that looks half decent but are compelled to hold out for better, so you carry on and carry on until you end up in an Irish bar eating spag bol wishing you hadn’t been so fussy. Your best bet it to stay at home, and wait for someone in the know to bring back their best experiences for you to enjoy.
It’s no surprise, then, that the best Spanish food I’ve had is in London, as my recent drop in to Morito in Exmouth Market confirmed. Unlike myself, proprietors Sam and Sam Clark clearly knew where to look when they went abroad. The resulting inspiration has to be the best Spanish import since Enrique Iglesias first graced our ears with ‘Hero’.
First impressions seem authentically Catalan – small and unassuming just the sort of place I’d walk past in hope of better but with nothing particular in mind. But in London this is exactly what you’re after. Morito has remained one of the best places in the capital for authentic Spanish tapas since it opened next door to its older, more sophisticated brother Moro: the Clarks’ first and hugely successful, critically acclaimed venture serving Moorish cuisine. So in I popped one Thursday lunchtime.
I took a seat at the orange bar alongside foodie, arty looking twosomes (larger groups took to scruffy wooden tables), at probably the worst stool in the house. Right next to the door and the till, I was jabbed by cold draughts and clumsy elbows but this wasn’t the sort of place where people care about such things.
Nose to nose with the barman he served me a half of Alhambra lager in a stubby little tumbler – a pint glass with the top lopped off – after I decided a third wouldn’t quench a matchstick. Gulped down with proper olives and crispy salt cod croquetas smeared in aioli it was just how I imagined Barcelona would be before I actually went. Padron peppers were lovely, especially when their blistered skins were spiked with the coloured salts sat at each place setting. All delicious, mild and juicy with the rogue hot pepper that should statistically appear in such a generous portion eluding me once more (has anyone ever had a hot one?).
Chicharrones de Cadiz, were proper piggy treats – chunks of fatty pork belly, fried until brown with lemon juice and cumin topped by some choice pieces crackling so good I enjoyed them just as much second time round, picked out of my teeth throughout the afternoon. It’s a recipe so simple it’s barely a recipe. Morito’s cookbook admits it:
‘The following is the Moro recipe for roast pork belly, but if you have a tried and trusted method, feel free to use your own.’
Its pork belly, cumin and lemon. It is what it is and it’s excellent for it.
Rarely does a plate on Morito’s menu span more than two or three main ingredients. They’re uncomplicated, tasty and served in little terracotta dishes. As Spanish as you like. Three or four of these will make a decent meal costing around £25.
I’ll be going back to Clerkenwell for Moro. A taste of the Southern Med, apparently, without a three-month drive through Spain, Morocco and the Sahara (the journey Sam and Sam took for research before its opening). I’m glad they not only found great places to eat, but brought the best of it back to us. Without them I might never get to try such fare. After all, if I couldn’t eat well in Barcelona, what hope would I have in the desert?