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Tuesday 19 July 2016

The New Morito Hackney Road - Bigger and Bolder

Name: Morito Hackney Road

Where: 195 Hackney Road, London, E2 8JL, www.moritohackneyroad.co.uk

Cost: Average spent per person is £35 (not including drinks or service). The menu consists of small eats to share, and the recommendation is to start with 3 small plates per person, plus a portion of bread (£2.50), followed by dessert. Small eats are priced from £6 to £12. 

Wines are served by the glass, 500ml carafe and bottle. The house red and white wines are available on tap - Spanish Verdejo and Tempranillo  (£4 per glass, £15 per carafe). 

About: Opened in March 2016, this new branch of Morito in hipster Hackney, just over the road from the Columbia Road flower market, is much larger and can accommodate many more diners than the original restaurant on Exmouth Market.

It features a stunning ‘U’ shaped central bar with an elevated counter for those who prefer to dine there, as well as a total of 70 covers on tables scattered around the restaurant.

With an open-plan kitchen overlooking the restaurant like at Moro, polished concrete floors, simple wooden tables with cushioned aluminium chairs, the look is clean and industrial, and with plenty of natural light. Morito Hackney Road is a lively, buzzing place for lunch or dinner.

Tables are allocated for a maximum of 90 minutes, so Morito is not the place for a relaxed long lunch or dinner.

The staff are super-helpful, efficient and well informed though, and we got through our dinner without feeling in any way rushed.

What We Ate: The menu is divided into 5 sections and changes daily. There are only a few options per section, which should make it easy to order, though on our visit I was tempted by so many of the menu items that I struggled to make my choices!  

From the ‘para picar’ (appetizer) section, we ordered the bread basket (£2.50), which included a delicious and warm, freshly baked flat bread that worked a treat with the labneh, a thick and creamy Greek yoghurt, spiked with chillies and charred corn (£7), our choice from the ‘vegetable’ section. With a scattering of fennel and coriander seeds, and a pesto of parsley, as well as fragrant chilli oil, this was deliciously fresh and zingy.

From the meat offerings, we chose three dishes. The chicharrones (£7.50), an Andalucian specialty also popular throughout Latin America, are crispy pieces of fried pork belly – Morito’s version was sweet and tender, and I loved the addition of a simple dressing of cumin and lemon that cut through the fattiness and gave the pork such a lift.

The least promising of the dishes (Dr G’s choice, which I had to go along with), was in fact the best dish of the night. Fried rabbit (£7.50) was nothing short of a revelation - crispy rabbit morsels on the bone, seasoned with a fantastically aromatic dressing of rosemary and moscatel vinegar, lemon and sea salt.

The third meat option was the baked courgettes flowers with jamon and Manchego (£7). I found this disappointing in flavour, presentation and portion size – I could not detect any jamon, and the flower was of the type that did not have the baby courgette attached. I just wish I had ordered another portion of rabbit at virtually the same price!

From the fish section, we ordered two dishes. The slow-cooked cuttlefish with chickpeas and fino sherry (£11) came with flakes of red chilli and a scattering of Mediterranean herbs. I enjoyed the dish – the cuttlefish was super-tender and delicious, the chickpeas were soft, waxy and had a lovely texture. The only snag for me though was the overpowering and pungent smell (of offal I think, even though there was no offal in the dish as far as I am aware).

A much fresher option was the grilled mackerel, which came with tangy beetroot, walnuts and a sweet and aromatic borani (a Persian or Turkish yoghurt dip) flavoured with dill and tarragon (£9.50).  This was excellent –the fresh herbs and beetroot cut through the oiliness of the mackerel, it had great flavours and textures, and in all was a very well put together dish.

To finish our carafe of red wine, we shared the cheese platter dessert (£6.50).  With Zamorano and Fuente Los Angeles cheeses and membrillo, this was a classic combination of mature and well-flavoured hard sheep’s milk cheese and blue cheese, served with miniature biscuits.

For dessert proper, we shared a delicious fruit salad (£7), but not as we know it - this had crispy pieces of filo pastry, with sweetened labneh flavoured with gum mastic (a Turkish tree sap), slices of fig and peach and fresh green pistachios. I was so pleased to have ordered this – it had everything going for it – texture from the filo pastry, creaminess from the labneh, sweetness and freshness from the ripe fruit. A real winner.

What We Drank: We started off with a lovely bone-dry Manzanilla Gabriella sherry, from Bodegas Sanchez Ayala (£5 per glass). 

With the main meal, we shared a 500ml carafe of Garnacha 'El Marciano' from Alfredo Maestro 2015 (£24). Medium bodied, this had ripe cherry and plum fruit and soft tannins.

Likes: I love the extra space, the deep fried rabbit with rosemary and muscatel vinegar was the highlight. The chicharrones, labneh, cheese platter and dessert were all very good. Well-informed, efficient and friendly staff, what a joy to see this in London, and particularly in Hackney. 

Dislikes: The baked courgette flower with jamon and Manchego was the weakest link. 

Verdict: Super-fresh, zingy and delicious Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern flavours, I thoroughly enjoyed the food and service at Morito Hackney Road, and highly recommend it. 

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