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|Address:||32 Exmouth Market, London EC1R 4QE|
|Tel:||020 7278 7007|
|Price: £39.00||Wine: £17.00|
|Opening Hours:||Mon-Sun 12N-4pm Mon-Sat 5-11pm|
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Unlike bigger and slightly more upmarket neigbour Moro (the one your parents will really approve of) there are no reservations at the orange formica clad bar, where sharp elbowed trendies joust with local suits for space to pile their terracotta plates and baskets of fresh soft roundels and densely spiced flat breads made in Moro's bakery next door.
The bread is essential. Warm if you're lucky, moreish either way. It soaks up the fresh olive oil bottled on each table and its soft, open structure is perfect for scooping up little piles of za'atar (a piquant Arab herb mix on the table with the salt). The za'tar is a giveaway that this isn't a typical tapas bar, but one heavily influenced by Spain's Southern and Middle Eastern neighbours.
We started with one of the most remote of these influences, a soft, silken, oil infused Iranian Borani. Pureed beetroot with feta, dill and walnut was a perfect accompaniment to the breads and vanished swiftly with another Moorish dish of soft spiced lamb mince served on creamy roast aubergine. Lest there was no crunch to the meal, we sampled salt cod croquettas, soft fish yielding under a buttery breadcrumb carapace so good we followed it almost instantly with another plate, this time of jamon and chicken, a little too mushy inside but forgivably so. I was less forgiving of a dish of Butifarra sausage. Four thin discs drowning in an over oily mass of soft white beans, oddly tepid and served with a splodge of garlicky aioli.
I can never resist pimientos de Padrón when they appear on a menu, here a good value £3.50, hot, flame charred and oiled like tiny green Lucha Libre wrestlers, the rare ‘Hot One’ threatening to kick your throat in. No luck tonight, though they provided a sharp salty contrast to a menu a little steeped in oil and cream. A final hurrah came with a small wooden platter of crisp baby squid. We realised half way through that they were whole, inch long tubes of fried fry or battered baby. Either way it felt like piscine infanticide on an epic scale.
Busy and buzzy even at 9.30 on a Tuesday night there was a wait, this really is somewhere you stumble into rather than a planned ‘eat at eight’ mission. If you want that, go to the slightly more upscale Moro next door. Just make sure you eat well enough to drown out any envy of the snake hipped youth hanging outside.