Exmouth Market is one of those places where when it's sunny, I'm sure it's lovely. On this particular May evening, it was hammering down with rain. Equidistant by about a mile from any tube station, it is what is known as a right pain in the arse to get to. When you walk inside Morito though, you can't help but feel immediately happier, from both the smells coming from the grill and the sunny orange tones that decorate an otherwise quite spartan room.
The baby sibling of Moro next door, couples are invited to sit at the bar (my preferred spot for dining, if I'm honest) while larger groups huddle around small tables that line the wall. Space is at a premium here; music is lively but the hum of conversations is at a decent level.
It is described as a tapas and mezze bar; to me it was more familiar as tapas, with a few Middle Eastern touches thrown in. We were given samples of various sherries to taste as we had uhm'd and ah'd over the selection, the padron peppers a decent accompaniment. Alas, not a hot one in our batch, they'd have benefitted from a hotter pan but were otherwise pleasant enough.
Salt cod croquetas were well fried and light, their insides flavoursome and nicely accompanied by the lemony mayonnaise. Spiced shreds of lamb with pine nuts and pomegranate was served on a creamy bed of mashed aubergines, and I wish we'd ordered some of the delicious-looking flatbreads to scoop it up with. Forks sufficed.
Fried baby squid, called puntillitas, were perfectly crisp and tender, sometimes juicy in their little bodies. Sprinkled with sumac, they cried out for some sort of aioli or sauce to dip them in. Palermo prawns (below) with mojo verde were pretty stunning; sweet flesh and grilled with garlic, it was livened by the sprightly coriander sauce. A Mexican stand-off of hungry eyes met over the plate for the remaining fifth prawn. We begrudgingly shared.
Seafood seems to be a strong point of theirs, as demonstrated by a pretty plate of octopus salad and incredibly sweet tomatoes. Capers and red onion were boosted by fronds of dill and monks beard. An accomplished dish, it was a nice change from the usual paprika-dusted octopus you often see at tapas bars.
Meat dishes, on balance, were less successful. Duck hearts and gizzards (back dish) sounded interesting on the menu but sadly weren't up to much on the plate. While the pork belly was well cooked with tender flesh and crackled skin, it was unbearably salty. The waitress gave me a shrug when mentioned. The morcilla that arrived atop the vibrant braised peas and orange was largely ignored, though we scooped up the vegetables hungrily. We were revived with meaty grilled asparagus spears, tarted up with chopped egg and dill.
A meal of ups and downs food-wise, but we enjoyed it nonetheless. It might have been the bottle of Txakoli, poured at a height to emphasize the fizz, that did it. More likely that was the seafood dishes that really were very good, and the staff friendly and engaging. Oh, and that boozy finish of raisin ice cream drenched in sticky Pedro Ximenez to send us off out to the gusting rain. That helped too.
Not cheap, as decent tapas rarely is for those of us with appetites. When I was approached by Match.com (who sponsored this post) to eat out at a date venue with an £80 budget, my research suggested that these days, £40 a head doesn't get you far unless you're teetotal. And no one wants to be on a teetotal date now do they? We smashed that budget with our £125 bill, but really a couple dishes less wouldn't have killed the mood.
32 Exmouth Market
London EC1R 4QE
(No bookings. We turned up at 7:30pm which was fine - any later and it was packed)