They say never to go into business with family. Then again, just half an hour spent with Sam and Sam Clark shows exactly why that rule is made to be broken. Watching them cook and talking to both of them, their passion for food and undeniable chemistry – even after more than two decades during which they've opened restaurants Moro, Morito and Morito Hackney Road – is unquestionable, and self-evident.
Clark (Samantha, originally Clarke with an 'e') and Clark (Samuel) met after being introduced by a mutual friend who thought it was funny that they shared a name. Both had worked at the iconic River Café in Hammersmith, and they recall “flirting” and “sparring” in their home kitchens in the early days as they mapped out each others' styles. Both share a deep-seated passion for travel, and after a period of time away from their kitchens to explore the Mediterranean together, they returned to London full of inspiration, and with a plan to create a restaurant together. Moro opened in 1997, and it pinned down their love of the flavours, produce and techniques of Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean in a style most rooted in the Moorish-influenced tapas of southern Spain, a sun-drenched cuisine shaped over generations by North African Muslim immigrants to the country. Moro, its name, comes from the Spanish term for Moor.
Evident also is the fact that these are not steely-eyed businesspeople – at least not first and foremost. They are inspired and thrilled by ingredients, by the idea of feeding people, and by each other; and in Moro and the two Morito restaurants – the former largely run by Samuel; the latter ones and the soon-to-open event space and private dining room Casa Moro, in Hackney Wick, by Samantha – they have created one of London's great food success stories. “We came from nouvelle cuisine, and people putting food on plates with tweezers,” says Sam. “We were a reaction to that.” With their at-times rustic (although invariably beautiful) dishes created to feel welcoming and made for sharing, as well as their ever-changing menus, they were – and they remain – a truly pre-eminent and quintessentially London pair of chefs.
Thai green curry
SAMUEL: Pre-Moro, before Sam and I were married, when we were just flirting and having fun in the kitchen, we cooked Thai curry together. We were getting to know each other and sparring in the kitchen, playing with all these flavours. Sam travelled a lot in Thailand, and it was really close to her – happy memories from all that amazing Thai food I'd never tried.
SAMANTHA: And we lived around the corner from a Thai supermarket.
SAMUEL: At home you like to get away from the flavours you work with every day, so you have fun in the kitchen. I loved the intensity, the fragrance and the complexity. There's something about the freshness of home-cooked Thai food – when the ingredients have just been blitzed and still have these volatile aromas. No restaurant can really beat it. It was a kind of precursor to what we like at Moro, which is basically quite flavour-driven – the use of spices and herbs, not expensive ingredients, really, just lots of layers of flavour.
Crab brik with harissa
SAMANTHA: This was on the very first menu at Moro in 1997. Before we opened the restaurant, we travelled around Morocco and Spain, and one of the things we wanted to learn is how to make the warka pastry. We found someone in Marrakech who showed us how to dab this really wet dough on a copper frying pan and peel it off. It's a paper-thin pastry that we wrap around the spiced crab, and serve with our harissa. That was on the opening menu and everyone went mad for it.
SAMUEL: It's a street food, basically, but we put crab in it. You make two of these layers of pastry for each one – we sold 50 portions on Friday, and I personally made 100 sheets of the pastry, so I'm slightly over it. Can we change the subject? [laughs]
Fried chickpeas with chopped salad
SAMUEL: This is a bit of a Morito and Moro classic – it's fresh, it's got all these lovely spices and herbs. The inspiration came because one of the things that intrigued me about Islamic culture in the Mediterranean was having lots of Pakistani school friends, and their mums used to make this great salsa. I never forgot how good it was, and then with Moro I just thought 'I can use coriander, I can use cumin, and I can basically get a Pakistani salsa salad into Moro, and no one's going to say anything.' So that's sort of what we did. I think it harks back to eating this amazingly tasty, aromatically flavoured and fresh food when I was a kid. And that then led on to being interested by the Islamic culture in Spain, and being interested in the music and the architecture. You never know how things are going to affect you in life.
Fried aubergine with date molasses and feta
SAMANTHA: This fried aubergine dish is a close cousin to the fried aubergine that you get in Andalusia with miel de caña, which is a kind of sugar cane molasses. The one we cook is with date molasses, and we also add a sauce that we've blitzed with feta and a touch of olive oil and water, which cuts through the rich, oily aubergine, and there's the sweetness from the date molasses. It's one of our classics at Morito Hackney Road, and everyone loves it.
Grilled lamb chops
SAMUEL: It's got very fond memories because when we travelled in Morocco we'd go to this really remote desert market, tents blowing – it could have been a medieval market 500 years ago. There'd be one guy grilling, one guy shooing away the flies, and huge carcasses hanging up in the sun. We'd then buy these minute little chops, take them to the little barbecue place and they'd cook them for us. And then they'd just get loads of lemon juice and cumin.
It was just so simple, and it was one of those things we aspire to in a way – that type of cooking where it's just three elements, in this case lamb chop, lemon juice and cumin, and it blows your mind. We like that sort of cookery as well, where you can just have three elements, with the fourth being the smoke and the fire.
Find out more at moro.co.uk