Green & Red, Moro, Thai Square
Some time ago I was overcome by an overwhelming desire for Mexican food. There is a surprising paucity of it in London, it is much more of a tapas city, but a friend had been to Green & Red and recommended it. Right, I said, let’s do it. We’re busy and skint, said everyone I know, can we do it in July? I made a note of this and the plan was duly enacted on Friday.
The English aren’t very good at ordering Mexican or Spanish food. We are scared of being ripped off or going hungry or just looking like complete fish out of water. How many dishes should I order? Of what sort? So we started off very tentatively by ordering a platter of tacos. There were fourteen between the six of us and they disappeared in a flash. Emboldened but still wary, we then each ordered a main and a couple of sides; the original idea was to share the sides but I was planning to keep hold of mine. Since I was already planning to have pork on Saturday, I had lamb but since it seemed wrong to go to a Mexican restaurant and not eat pig I also ordered ribs and chicharron. The menu informed me that chicharron are “Mexican pork scratchings” and these were very much at the processed pub snack end of the spectrum rather than anything particularly authentic. Which is not to say they were unwelcome.
The mains all followed the same format: a pile of corn tortillas, a pile of protein, a bowl of dipping sauce. The majority of the table agreed with my choice of lamb and we were proved right, although the sauce could have done with a bit more pep. Chicken and pork also got the thumbs up. My wife, foolishly disdaining meat, went for seabass but found it disappointingly bland. I offered her a rib as compensation but she was not amused. She then had her revenge by instigating a chilli eating competion. Christ knows why she ordered them as a side but everyone was highly relieved that she had also ordered some cheese since it was the only thing that (barely) took the edge of their insane heat.
Green & Red is as much a bar as a restaurant and, ironically, it is the drinks I can remember best. I started with a Pommegranate Fizz which, as you might imagine, is pommegranate syrup and cava. With a shot of tequilla in it. This is much nicer than it sounds. They stock over two hundred different different tequillas and basically every drink is tequilla based. In a shocking oversight, the beer didn’t contain any tequilla. It did, however, contain lime, salt and tabasco. I thought this was surprisingly nice, a strangely compelling hybrid of lager and Bloody Mary. Others voiced the opinion that it just tasted like a dirty pint. Then I had something that had tequilla (surprise!) and grapefruit juice in it. Grapefruit is one of my favourite mixers but I’m not sure it works very well with tequilla. I then somehow got it into my head that a tequilla sour would be a good idea. The glass it was served in was so cold that the egg white had frozen solid and formed a seal over the booze. I looked at it for a bit then got out a pencil and gave it a vigourous stir. Having successfully gained access to the contents, I discovered it wasn’t very nice. I will stick to pisco sours in future. Still, I polished it off (along with my wife’s which she had turned her nose up at) and moved on to a safer choice: Negra Modelo. You will notice that over the course of the evening I failed to drink a single margaretia which was a bit remiss, particularly since they were heavily endorsed by the rest of the table. This all came to £50 a head which isn’t bad considering we were eating and drinking constantly for the whole of the evening.
I have been meaning to go to Moro for even longer than Green & Red. However, I am always overcome with this desire at the last moment – usually after Graham Sleight has tauntingly mentioned popping in for lunch – and Moro is very, very popular. This leads to a repeated phone conversation where I tentatively enquire about a table and a very polite member of staff doesn’t laugh in my face. So it was last Thursday until the end of the conversation when she asked if I was aware they offered the full menu at the bar. I wasn’t.
So I strolled down on Saturday to meet my wife who had been working all day, poor thing, and was in need of a treat. As I walked up Exmouth Market I started to get a bit anxious; I had thought half six was early and that it would be relatively quite at the weekend but no, the street was already suprisingly packed. The tables outside Moro were similarly full but thankfully everyone obviously wanted to make the most of the balmy evening air and I entered to discover to my relief that there was room at the inn. After those minor palputations (and the residual hangover from Green & Red) I needed a drink and, because I’m a creature of habit, this had to be a kir royale. Or a cava royale as they took scrupulous care to call it since Moro is, of course, a Spanish restaurant and they didn’t want to imply any French muck like champagne had crept onto the menu. Which made it slightly odd when it appeared to be made with a bottle of prosecco. Anyway, I didn’t particularly care about its provinance; with glass in hand, perched at the bar with my gorgeous wife, I suddenly felt utterly at home. We then leisurely feasted – and I don’t think feasting is overstating it – on almonds and Manchego as we watched the restaurant slowly fill with people far more organised than I.
When the kitchen opened at seven, we embarked on a bit of a mix and match dining experience, pairing a starter from the daily restaurant menu and with pimentos and fried chickpeas from the tapas bar menu. We fairly raced through the pimentos, leaving a rapidly growing pile of stalks behind, until just before the end when we hit a sleeper cell of fiery peppers of a previously unhinted at potency. We backed carefully away (the waitress said it was sheer chance, you can never tell which ones are going to be hot). The duller flavour of the chickpeas made a nice contrast with the salty sharpness of the peppers but I couldn’t help thinking they needed a bit of salsa with them. However lovingly prepared, a chickpea is not a particularly mouth-watering beast. The starter we shared was mushrooms and prawns in sherry on toast (the menu put it in rather more poetic terms but that was the gist). The mushrooms – okay, they were girolles – soaked up the colour and flavour of the sherry but each element of the plate managed to remain distinct whilst also in harmony.
As you will have gathered by now, I like pink drinks. This becomes socially acceptable in summer so we ordered a bottle of rose. It was adequate but not very exciting, too close to a white to be exactly what my palette needed. My wife’s main of baked mackerel, on the other hand, was exactly what the doctor ordered. It was one of the most beautiful plates of food I’ve seen: a Jackson Pollock riot of colour, like Spain poured on a plate, that managed to look not at all messy. She was mightily pleased.
I was less fortunate. As I mentioned, I had planned in advance to have the pork but the lamb did look awfully tempting. I stayed true and order the pork and regretted it. Whereas the lamb was cooked on a charcoal grill, the pork was cooked in a wood chip oven and unfortunately it was in there a bit too long. It tasted wonderful but it was a touch dry. It was also rather large and due to its size – and, let’s be fair, the fact I was having a right old natter with the missus – by the time I approached the end it was pretty cold. And cold pork is not a good thing, particularly if it was a bit dry to start with. It was served with chickpeas which weren’t mentioned on the menu and which would have caused be to think twice since the tapas had already used up my chickpea quota for the quarter. Happily, my wife is a hippy and likes nothing better than a legume so they were swiftly annexed to her plate.
So was this a disappointing end to the meal? Well, not really. When I said I felt at home, I meant it. As I put my last mouthful of pork to one side, I felt no urge to criticise; instead I felt the warm glow of happiness which is the whole reason I like to go out for dinner. Perhaps I should have been breathalysed by the review police on my departure but there you go. Not that I am being completely laissez-faire about it; at £60 a head, I would expect more. I will be back – I may even manage to book a table! – but I think I will be concentrating on the tapas side of things.
Thai Square, on the other hand, wasn’t a restaurant I had been actively wanting to go to but, since I like Thai food, it has got a good reputation and they have branches dotted all over town, it was only a matter of time. The opportunity came when we found ourselves trapped in Kensington, desperately in need of lunch. They had done their best with a site the size of a postage stamp and the service was pleasant but something obviously wasn’t right in the kitchen. I should have been tipped off when the couple next to us left abruptly half-way through their meal but we’d ordered by then. Salt and pepper squid was perfectly adequate, although the only notable thing about it was the generous bowl of chilli sauce. The pad thai, however… Well, if you can’t get that right, why are you running a Thai restaurant? Egg is an integral part but there was far too much here and it had only been sloppily tossed through the noodles meaning there were lumps of raw yolk. It was also far too sweet with the combined result that it tasted like the sort of thing and American would have for breakfast. To top it all off, the prawns were simultaneously muddy and watery. They were the type of prawns that I thought had been confined to provincial Chinese restaurants in the Eighties and had long since died a death.
I also made a tactical error of my own: I ordered a Thai iced tea. In my world, an iced tea is a lovely, refreshing beverage; the perfect thing after a morning spent pounding the humid London streets. But then I’ve never been to Thailand where apparently the ideal thing to add to cold tea is condensed milk. Since I generally spit my mouthful out in disgust if I accidently drink my wife’s tea which contains half a sugar, you will be unsurprised to learn I didn’t finish it. My wife had cunningly ordered a lychee tea from a section of the drinks menu I hadn’t even seen and that was lovely, although the glass was whisked away before she could finish the actually lychees themselves which she had been saving till the end as a treat. We took that as our cue, quickly paid the bill – £15 a head – and took to the streets, full but full of twisted egg wrong.