Hackney Road is a far cry from the Mediterranean. Lined with electrical shops and building sites, it seems a world away from its nearby upmarket cousins, Columbia Road and Broadway Market, with their boutique eateries and fancy delicatessens.
But step inside Morito, which opened last month, and you are hit by the smell of za’atar wafting from the kitchen, sherry swilling in stout glasses, and bright lights beaming down on shell-shaped tiles.
Like its famous big brother on Exmouth Market, Morito on Hackney Road serves up tapas with a North African twist.
The menu is peppered with ingredients typical in Spain but hard to come by in London. For example the bonito – a meaty, dark, tuna-like fish, served with oloroso sherry and caramelised onion – which was rare, juicy and fell apart in the mouth in such a way that it had to be fresh.
Sherry, from the Jerez region of Spain, flows freely throughout the menu, cutting through the richness here or adding a sprinkling of sweetness there.
Grilled lamb chops were another standout dish – encased in a smoky anchovy and paprika marinade and succulent as you like.
Hunks of fatty rabbit – which is also common in Spain but has fallen out of fashion here – were served deep fried with an intense infusion of rosemary, and came with the welcome contrast of a vinegar dressing.
To accompany the meat we nibbled on delicate aubergine strips, fried and drizzled with feta and date molasses, the sweet, rich and tangy flavours working in harmony.
Slices of octopus burst with flavour, but were cooked a little long for our liking and served with a fava bean puree, which didn’t add much to the dish.
We regretted not ordering the dried fig, sesame brittle and bitter leaf salad, which looked vibrant and light and would have complemented the rich meat well (well done to the table next to us).
We rounded off with zamorano, a hard Spanish sheep’s cheese reminiscent of parmesan, with quince jelly – both delicious. But the deconstructed rhubarb tart left you wanting more of everything – the flakes of filo, the dollop of rhubarb puree and dusting of pistachio.
In true tapas style dishes are made for sharing and appear as they are ready. Although two plates promptly disappeared again before we’d had a chance to mop up the juices with the smoky, oily flatbread. But apart from feeling a little rushed – perhaps more a nod to authentic tapas style than a shortcoming – eating at Morito is a treat for all the tastes and senses.
Morito, 195 Hackney Road, E2 8JL