Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

Green & Red, Moro, Thai Square

with 8 comments

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.

Written by Martin

26 July 2010 at 14:15

Posted in food

Tagged with , ,

8 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Mestizo (on a rather dreary section of Hampstead Rd not far from warren st station) is supposed to be a good authentic Mexican, tho when we went a couple of years ago we were served undercooked pork. Hopefully it has improved since then – it often looks busy when I pass it.

    mark c

    27 July 2010 at 12:16

  2. I only work round the corner from Green and Red and have been meaning to visit since I started investigating tequila recently – it’s been recommended to me several times as a really good place to go and talk to the bar staff about the drinks they have, as well as drink them.

    Along with Mestizo (which I had recommended by someone at a tequila tasting as being very good these days for both food and drink) I was also told to go to Santo (http://www.santovillage.com/) in Notting Hill. Still not been to any of them…I am rubbish.


    27 July 2010 at 13:16

  3. The staff at Green & Red were very good, particularly considering how busy and boisterous it was, so that wouldn’t surprise me at all. Because we were at a table we were pretty much doing lucky dip but there is a lot of space around the bar itself if you wanted to properly discuss the drinks.

    Thank you both for the recommendations. I should also mention Boho Mexica on Commercial Street. I’ve been there but only in the middle of a stag do so I was not in the best frame of mind to pass objective judgement. They were very accommodating though.


    27 July 2010 at 13:59

  4. […] it was across town to the V&A for 1:1 Architects In Small Spaces (hence the trip to Thai Square). Okay, I’ll be honest I was going there for one main reason: The Ark. It was every bit as […]

  5. I really didn’t like Mestizo so would advise you not to bother but Wahaca in Covent Garden is apparently really good. You’re right that London is poorly equipped with Mexican restaurants, though, especially since Cafe Pacifico went so drastically downhill. But thanks for the tip re Green & Red, I also work not a million miles away (although my haircut is not particularly trendy…)


    27 August 2010 at 15:06

  6. Wahaca is good but it is run along the lines of a Mexican Wagamama: get you in, get you out, with an echo-y canteen vibe. No very relaxing but good if you want a quick bite.

    I was chatting with my wife the other day and we concluded we probably won’t go back if it was just the two of us. I think it is definitely more of a place to go with friends.


    27 August 2010 at 15:25

  7. I did go back to Moro and I did book a table but I didn’t concentrate on the tapas. The menu says you can only order tapas at the bar and, whilst I’m not convinced this is true, we just went for starters and mains.

    Foolishly, I again went for the wood cooked pork. It was much juicier but its size was still a problem and by the time I finished my plate it had gone cold and started to toughen. My poor mum couldn’t make a tend. She would have been better off with the glorious and much lighter duck hash my dad had (although obviously they didn’t describe it as “hash”). The reason we were both tempted by the pork were the wonderful and slightly bonkers accompaniments: fried potatoes with quince aoili and caramelised chesnuts. They complemented the meat perfectly but damn, that was a heavy meal!

    Not at all heavy was my starter of baked fideo with prawns, langoustines and aoili. The fideo looks like burnt spaggetti glued to an oven dish but, thankfully, the subtle taste is a million miles. I washed this down with a bottle of beer that cost eleven pounds. Madness. Delicous madness.


    26 November 2010 at 12:32

  8. A friend rang me up on Sunday mornign and asked if I wanted to go out for breakfast. Obviously I did. A bit of negotiation around location followed – Hackney? Islington? Clerkenwell? – before we settled on Caravan. Our thinking was that Exmouth Market would be quieter than Upper Street at the weekend. We were very, very wrong. Faced with an hour queue, we wandered about for a bit before chancing on a free table at Morito, the little sister of Moro.

    By now it was 1pm and breakfast had stretched past brunch into actual lunch. Nothing made this point more clearly than the fact our waiter offered us a gilda – whole anchovy, olive, pickled onion and chilli on a toothpick – to down in one as an appetiser. The traditional way describing such a dish is that the different elements complimented each other but really this was culinary warfare in which each the four flavours fought each other to a deadlock. Wowsers.

    After that we went a bit mad with the ordering. Something were a given – bread, padron peppers, chicharrones, both ham and salt cod croquetas – but we careened reckless over the rest of the menu. Quail eggs would have been better to pick at over a drink at the bar, too fiddily to satisfy immediate hunger, but otherwise we chose wisely (if excessively). Particularly good was an open sandwich (I forget the Spanish) of pork fillet, tomato and slow roast fennel. Nothing beats pig. Well, except maybe excellent seafood of which there was also an abundance.

    They also have a very exciting drinks menu but since it was the first meal of the day I restricted myself to a mint tea, a rebojito (a cocktail of fino sherry, lemonade and mint that was surprise hit), a small beer and a cava and pomegranate. I also had a try of N’s excellent muscat. Oh, and there was a complimentary round of vermouth at the end. Basically, everything you could possibly want in a bar.

    It came to £35 a head which is more than I would usually spend on breakfast (by about 300%) but every penny was well spent. As a dining experience, in both its range and intimacy, it is even better than Moro. I feel like I’ve only got started on the menu though and I will be back as soon as I can.


    13 February 2012 at 14:43

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: