Mora is a family-run Italian restaurant based in Leytonstone, East London, specialising in Sardinian cuisine. Owned by husband and wife team Carlo and Silvia, it commands five-star ratings across the board and is a healthy competitor to the self-consciously ‘trendier’ likes of Trullo and Polpo. We couldn’t wait to swing by to try it for ourselves.
I have fond memories of Sardinia. This is mainly due to a beefy sailing instructor called Enrico who stole my heart during a family catamaran holiday in the 1990s. Through him, I was introduced to the many delights the island had to offer – including its outstanding cuisine.
While Enrico and I sadly weren’t to be (others also had intimate knowledge of his catamaran, it transpired), my love affair with Sardinian food has endured. For me, this rich Mediterranean diet is among the best in the world. While unmistakably Italian, it contains strong traces of the many invaders who left their mark over the years, from the Carthaginians and Romans to the Arabs and Spanish. Is it possible to imagine a tastier melting pot of culinary influence?
Hence my excitement at visiting Mora. A cosy, understated Italian restaurant in Leytonstone, specialising in Sardinian cuisine, it effortlessly walks the line between classy haute cuisine and comforting home cooking. Its fresh pasta is made painstakingly each morning (with gluten-free and vegan options available), and its seasonal produce sourced where possible from small artisan suppliers.
Owner Carlo Usai is Mora’s highly experienced chef, having clocked up two decades of experience in leading London restaurants. His life nearly took a very different route, however. ‘He actually started out in accountancy,’ Silvia, co-owner and Carlo’s wife, tells me as I tuck into my hearty starter of deep fried artichokes, mushrooms and cauliflowers. ‘But he decided that wasn’t for him. He loved cooking too much.’
It was clearly the right choice. My mashed potato seems to have been spun out of fairy dust and velvet, while the rabbit with chestnuts and pancetta oozes with succulent flavour. ‘The trick is in the sieving,’ Silvia tells me when I ask her advice on how to better my own lumpy mash efforts at home. She then adds, smiling: ‘The rest is a secret.’
The couple opened Mora in March 2016 so they could have the freedom to create their own dishes, Silvia explains. The restaurant’s Sardinian slant is due to Carlo, who comes from Guspini, a small town in the south of the island. ‘Our idea was to bring delicious Italian and Sardinian recipes to life in a sustainable way.’
The first few months were tough, however. The opening coincided with the birth of their son, and was a highly stressful time for both of them. ‘For Carlo it was especially hard, ’ Silvia recalls. ‘He barely slept at night and then had to work all day. It wasn’t the best situation when you’re trying to start a business!’
Despite the challenging beginning, Mora has gone from strength to strength. Boasting five-star reviews from Time Out, TripAdvisor, Google and the Evening Standard, its record speaks for itself. Its appeal seems to lie in its simplicity and authenticity, with no hint of pretension.
Mora’s ‘Grand Tour’ promotion, which focused on a new local cuisine each fortnight, also proved highly popular. Favourites included Campania, with its mouth-watering mozzarella in carrozza (a kind of elegant fried cheese sandwich), and Puglia, with its decadently creamy burrata and truffle– a speciality here, sourced mainly from Umbria – on sourdough bread.
As I get up to leave, I stumble into Sylvia and Carlo’s charming, hyperactive little boy madly dashing across the floor. Sylvia scoops him up apologetically. ‘This one has certainly made it hard work, but it was worth all the effort in the end.’
DO: eat the traditional Italian way, including a portion of fresh pasta between your antipasti and main (it would be rude not to).
DON’T: go during a foolhardy ‘dry January’ (as I did), meaning you can’t sample the excellent selection of organic Italian wines.
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