Andalucia first captured my imagination in my early teens via the Doors song Spanish Caravan. The name had a kind of magic.
Later I found out that the name, like so much else in this most romantic of Spanish regions, owes its magic to the seven hundred years of Moorish influence on the land that they called Al Andalus.
Their presence came to an end with the fall of Granada in 1492, the last Moorish stronghold in Spain. As he fled the city the Emir Boabdil is said to have turned back for one last glance at his magnificent palace, the Alhambra. He burst into tears . His less sentimental mother observed: “Thou dost weep like a woman for what thou couldst not defend as a man”
Boabdil’s followers were exiled into the Alpujaras, a region of rugged mountain interspersed with fertile valleys watered by the snowmelt off the Sierra Nevada.
And it was to these mountains that the newly-wed chef-couple of Sam and Sam Clark (Samuel and Samantha) came on a three month road trip in 1997 in their elderly camper van. They were seeking inspiration for their first solo venture; a restaurant they were shortly going to open in Exmouth market.
They had already decided on a concept. As graduates of the River Café kitchen, they knew they could never open a rival Italian restaurant. But what they had learnt at the River Café about integrity and sourcing could be transposed to another style of cooking. Authentic Spanish and North African food, they decided, was an untapped vein in mid-90’s London.
Andalucia provided the missing piece in the jigsaw. The place where Islamic and Southern European traditions had blended, intertwined and fused over many generations. In the buildings, the agriculture, the food, and the music, the influence of the Moors was still perceptible everywhere. Sam and Sam were hooked. The new restaurant would be a celebration of all things Moorish.
The rest as they say is history. Moro quickly became one of London’s hottest dining-spots. Relaxed, informal, imaginative; it was a critical as well as a popular success.
And thus it has remained for some 14 years; evolving; punctuated by developments in Sam and Sam’s lives; the birth of their children; the purchase of Casa Moro, a pied à terre of their own in the Alpujarras; the publication of their cookbooks; and most recently the opening of Morito – Moro’s next-door little-sister tapas-bar.
Imperceptibly Sam and Sam who have always been modest and unassuming have acquired a mantle of celebrity. Moro, always fresh and innovative, has become a kind of institution. The Hispanic revolution that they sparked in the 90’s – along with Brindisa– has taken root across the city and beyond it.
This year their three cookbooks Moro, Casa Moro and Moro East are being republished in glorious paperback editions to mark the 10th anniversary of the publication of the first book. So it is an apposite moment and a great pleasure to welcome Sam(uel) back to Abergavenny. (Sam and Sam came to the Hen and Chicks in the early days of both the restaurant and the festival.)
This time Sam will be joined by his friend and Andalucian neighbour, the travel-writer Michael Jacobs. Michael lives in Frailes, a village he has immortalised in his hilarious memoir The Factory of Light. He is a superb Hispanicist who has written about Spain and South America in many travel books and guides; he leads art and architectural tours; he broadcasts on Spanish National Radio.
Sam will be demonstrating dishes from the Moro repertoire. Michael is working out how to bring cheese, oil, and almonds from his village. Together they plan to create a little bit of the magic of Andalusia to light up the Borough Theatre.
Sam Clark and Michael Jacobs will be appearing in the Borough Theatre theatre on Sunday 18 September at 2.00pm. Booksignings will take place afterwards in the Market Hall. Buy your tickets online now