January is like one of my children's' endless games of Monopoly where I'm stuck freezing and penniless in a house on the Old Kent Road, and everyone else who's not ski-ing is living it up in a chain of hotels on Park Lane and Mayfair. Not that Monopoly really reflects modern life. Where is this mythical free parking and when did a bank last make an error in your favour? Where's the Community Chest card for the day spa and who takes a trip to Grand Cayman to inspect their offshore assets? And why doesn't anyone go to the country for extended periods instead of to jail? However, languishing in virtual jail does have its compensations. You can opt out and have a rent-free rest, which is pretty much what you need if you're piste off in January.
I've been swinging between sybaritic over-indulgence and low-fat, post-holiday hell - my version of yo-yo dieting. By now, I simply want something uncomplicated to eat - nothing fancy, nothing faddish, just food. The Spanish/North African restaurant, Moro in Exmouth Market in Clerkenwell may not seem like the obvious choice. but if you're expecting chimney pot tagines and wall to wall ethnic fakery you've come to the wrong place. If you want a contrived Moorish fantasy, take a trip to Mourad Mazouz's oh-so-trendy Momo off Regent Street in Central London, or alternatively buy the Momo cookbook and just look at the pictures. In contrast Moro is Momo uncovered. Apart from a row of oversized, striped bolsters along one wall, the room is sub-spartan with plain walls, bare floors, a utilitarian black and chrome bar, and simple brown tables crammed too closely together. As you squeeze past your neighbour's table you can re-enact the final tidal wave scene from Deep Impact and be graphically reminded of your new year resolution to lose weight. At lunch time it appears to double as the nearby Guardian Newspaper's executive canteen, and though I imagine the sound level can rise to a dull roar, on our visit it was earnest, but bearable.
Currently, I seem to have left my usually healthy appetite in the same place as I put my address book, the car radio, and three sets of house keys. I glanced at starters like salted anchovy, raw artichoke heart and piquillo pepper salad, pan fried calf's liver with cumin and crispbread, or a plate of chorizo and tortilla, but nothing appealed. The main courses were more enticing, most of them emanating from the gaping mouth of the wood fired oven in the heart of the restaurant's open kitchen - charcoal grilled seabass with pistachio and pomegranate sauce, roasted pork belly with quince alioli, grilled lamb with chickpeas or wood roasted lemon sole with braised fennel. My companion follows a proper vegetarian diet without the convenient loophole of considering fish to be a vegetable (unlike many of my like-minded friends who will gaily scoff seared tuna as long as it's line caught - a happy PC fish is an altruistic tuna, enormously cheered that dolphin can swim past unharmed). This made his choice easy - there was only one suitable starter and one main course on the menu, and nothing further to be coaxed from the waiter. He had a sharp, salty pairing of crumbled feta with small slices of blood orange and flat leaf parsley, followed by four grains with fresh herbs.
"What are the four grains?" I asked the waiter. "Wheat, wheat berries (which are whole, unprocessed kernels of wheat), chick peas and black beans," he replied, which even if I count it up twice using all my fingers comes to one grain and two pulses, but let's not split peas. The dish looked and tasted hearty and appetising, and was served with a pleasing sweet tomato sauce and a thick, curdy yoghurt dressing, both of which complemented the nutty texture of the beans.
I decided on a serious, frumpy-sounding sort of lunch featuring dishes as washed out and anaemic as my mood. First up was a bowl of chicken broth with a thin, insipid stock, not enlivened by the six grey, wizened cardamom dumplings idling in the depths like something left over from the washing up.
Consequently I did not have high hopes for the poached chicken breast but I was pleasantly surprised. True, the food on the plate appeared lack-lustre - strips of pallid chicken breast on a bed of Farika - crushed wheat - more like home cooking than the window dressing you usually find in restaurants. The taste, however, was perfect. The chicken was succulent and full of gentle flavours. The crushed wheat moist, tangy and flavoursome.
From the small dessert menu, my companion had an intense and delicious blood orange tart. I had rose petal ice cream, with the subtlest hint of rosewater and a few dried rose-petals strewn on the top - very good with the orange tart.
Despite the watery soup, I left feeling restored, invigorated, and nourished which on a cold, grey miserable January afternoon is all you can ask for really. Apart from maybe George Clooney.