MORITO: A LITTLE MORO
Walk into Morito and you might think you're in a nuevo tapas bar in Madrid or Barcelona: a clean, modern space filled with people sitting at the bar and at tables squeezed along the perimeters of the small room; a handwritten list of tapas, on a board; the chef, beavering away at the plancha turning out small plates, a buzzing atmosphere. But, you’re not in either of Spain’s two largest cities, you’re in Morito, a little tapas bar offshoot of parent and neighbour Moro, which stands on the site previously occupied by Spanish food wholesaler Brindisa.
Look closer though and there are plenty of clues that you are in fact in London's trendy Clerkenwell and not Madrid’s trendy Chueca. First off there's the smell or rather the lack of it: that unique mix of fag smoke, deep frying, cured hams and coffee I know and love from Spain’s finest. Then there’s the staff. They're not dressed in ill-fitting dark suits accessorised with wonky bowties and they are not nearly grumpy enough.
I like Moro. I’ve been going there since it first opened and although I don’t think it’s as good as it was (but then, where is?) from time to time I’ll still prop myself up at the large zinc and knock back a chilled half bottle of Manzanilla and a few cazuelas from their short tapas list.
The selection is larger at Morito and is written in an odd sort of Spanglish (and very irritating it is too). And the prices, well, they don’t seem too bad on first viewing but when you see the size of the dishes - and they really are tapa-sized - you might feel, like me, that they’re overpriced. The lack of seafood dishes too is a bit of a giveaway too. But overlook its cod-Hispanic affectations and like its big sister Morito is not a bad place to hang out for a bite and a glass or two.
The cooking is basically Spanish with a bit of Mahgreb thrown in - sumac and za'atar are available to sprinkle over one’s food. There’s plently of pimentón used as well. Sometimes too much, as in a dish of chiccarones (sic). They're advertised as being from Cadiz style although the last time I had them there they were a type of pressed pork rather than the usual cubes of belly pork served here. More importantly, all I could taste in the dish was the paprika.
Tortillitas de Camarones also hail from that ancient City. They’re a thin, crisp pancake made from chickpea batter with some shrimps mixed in, almost as another seasoning. Morito’s version was a bit oily but tasted authentic enough. There weren’t many shrimp but that could have been because the portion was so titchy.
An empanadilla of mussels and chorizo tasted took me back to visit to A Coruña although I found the pastry used here a bit leaden and reminiscent of something you'd find in the local health shop.
Croquetas de Jamón were disappointing. Instead of a creamy béchamel interior there was a tasteless semi-solid grey mush with very taste. The Croquetas de Bacalao, sorry Salt Cod, were much better. I also liked Morito’s preparation of Octopus which came sectioned and grilled in a perky and fresh-tasting salpicon .
The balance in a dish of Butifarra with white Navarran beans was all wrong and with a big splodge of garlic aioli the dish ended up being a bit too greasy and the taste of the Catalan sausage was lost. The beans were beautifully creamy though and cried out for a little bit of bread to mop things up.
Of the Montaditos (stuff on bread) the best was the little riff on brekkie: a couple of quail eggs with Jamón sitting on good Moro bread. Definitely something to be picked up and stuffed into one’s gob (which did what I did). The worst was the Birch Bolete where the taste of the mushroom was killed by the fried bread underneath.
Given that much of the preceding food hadn’t been bland, although oiliness was a general theme of the evening, a plate of seared rump was a bit of a shrug of the shoulders sort of dish. It hadn’t been seared enough, it hadn’t been seasoned enough and it hadn’t been rested enough. And (deep sigh) the beef hadn’t been hung for long enough.
There’s just the two desserts to choose from but for me it’s always going to be a scoop of Moro's Rum 'n' Raisin Ice Cream slathered in PX. It still hits the spot although the lack of any liqueur action meant I had to take a my espresso and Patxaran con hielo next door.
Although the evening may have seemed like more like a sequence of misses than hits the quality of the ingredients were decent and nothing left a bad taste in my mouth… well, maybe the prices did a little bit but to be honest that’s also the case at Moro and I still go back there quite happily. I can’t really explain it. I’ll probably return to Morito as well.