Sunday, 6 February 2011

Morito: Pre-Gig Tapas

Carrying on the theme of little sister restaurants, three of us popped round to Morito. Down London's food mecca Exmouth Market fellow giggers Harriet, Ianthe and I caught a quick supper there before being wowed by the voice of Clare Maguire in Shepherd’s Bush. And I’ll say it upfront that Morito is a gem of a place, Sam and Sam Clarke have a little winner on their hands. It may be right next door to its older sibling Moro, but with its Spanish-Moorish tapas and informal clamour of canteeny tables and chairs, it is equally pleasurable.

Pre-gig bites were swift in their delivery and the staff so down to earth that on occasion I thought we were house-partying with them. More low-key and chirpy than Moro, we chatted happily to our waitress and the kitchen about quail egg deliveries and which moritos to have.

Padrón peppers

We plumped for padrón peppers - (the ultimate beery snack bar edamame beans and pork scratchings) scattered with crystals that gave perfunctory saltiness, croquettes that were light yet jam-packed with salt-cod.

Salt cod croquetas

Patatas mojo - salt crusted potatoes with green chilli & coriander sauce

We had wee boiled potatoes layered thick with a vivid green coriander sauce - a wonderfully simple and rustic dish, as was the sausage with white beans and alioli, which prompted uncouth mopping, ordering of the bread basket and unlimited alioli.

Butifarra sausage (a type of Catalan sausage) with white beans and alioli
The star dish of the night

Crispy aubergine with Miel De Caña

Sliced aubergines had their savoury-soft flesh drizzled with devilish miel de cana (a black molasses) and were followed by the quail’s egg and peppers - oh-so-sweet and perfect in its proportion. But this was the last dish, and there was a definite ‘is that it?’ disappointment by the end as the portions were so tiny. The recommendation was to have three dishes each, but when the tapas was an average £4 each we went for two-and-a-bit. This may have been a mistake.

Quail's egg and chargrilled peppers. They kindly replaced the jamon with peppers for the vegetarian among us

The cooking cannot be faulted. Neither can the service and if I could I would swing by every day. But the bill steadily mounted, and though we did order a fruity Castro Regio Tempranillo at £15, we were all taken aback at how much it totted up to.

On the bright side, you don’t want to be gigging on a full stomach, and there lies the silver lining.

Go early on a weekday and preferably pre-gig, ready to be wowed. And bring lots of cash.

32 Exmouth Market
Islington EC1R 4 
020 7278 7007

Morito on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 5 February 2011

A Polpetto lunch

Polpo was the darling of London restaurant-lovers when she opened in 2009. Cutting through the ubiquity of the pizzas and pastas that have come to define Italian food, the breakthrough concept of the Venetian bacaro had arrived in Soho - a kind of working man’s wine bar, serving good but rough round the edges food.

A hard act to follow, no? Well, hot on its heels trots Polpetto, Polpo’s wittier, more confident little sister. Perched happily above boozer The French House, a Soho institution, battered stairs lead to the diminutive room that has the effortless intimacy of a supper club. It’s busy. And you have the sense it’s always busy. Polpetto only has 28 seats and a legion of Polpo fans after all. Tiny tables crammed with elbows and dishes, flickering candles in the bright daylight backdrop the hum of conspiratorial chat rising above the beats of Mark Ronson. This is not a deal-making place but one where plans are hatched. 

A window seat means a firm view of brazen torsos and tight Y-fronts in an Old Compton Street shop window. Staff are equally rock ‘n’ roll, and we’re served by the cheery spit of a Camden frontman, all skinny limbs and skinny jeans. He’s the right side of chatty rather than intrusive and is quick to serve our inexpensive rosé from the well-chosen list - a fresh and accessible bardolino chosen by Ruth, sloshed from a humble carafe.

Chopped chicken liver crostini

Cicheti is the thing here, tapas-type small plates, which start at a friendly £2.50. Thick-cut crostini slathered with punchy chicken liver are impaled with the tartness of sunblush tomato. Moscardini, baby octopus flecked with shards of garlic and fennel is excellently flavoured but upsettingly chewy.

Braised ox cheek, polenta bianca
and breaded sardines, caper mayonnaise

Larger sharing plates are wholesomely good; braised ox cheek has a gloriously unfashionable amount of fat that ensures its melty softness. The cavolo nero, a kind of kale, is an inspired dish enlivened with the crunch of rosemary breadcrumbs as are crisp breaded sardines.

Cavolo nero, borlotti beans & rosemary crumbs

Polpetto has nothing to prove, and there lies its scruffy charm. While the food may be slightly patchy, the coolly effortless concept isn’t. It has slipped seamlessly into The French House’s scuffed walls as though it’d been there all along and I bet you anything will be far more popular than her big sister.

Pizzetta bianca

Upstairs at The French House, 49 Dean Street, London
020 7734 1969
Reservations taken for lunch only.

Click here for my take on Polpo last year.

Polpetto on Urbanspoon