My friend Cosmo and I have an annual tradition whereby we go out to lunch at the beginning of January and compare notes about the year that has just gone by. He's a prickly character so I have to be very careful when choosing the restaurant, but I didn't see how he could possibly object to Moro.
To begin with, it's in Exmouth Market, a five-minute walk from his flat in Bloomsbury. Then there's the fact that it's quite trendy in an understated, middle-aged, New Labour sort of way. As a 51-year-old American liberal who's lived in London most of his life, I thought that would appeal to him. Finally, it has a reputation for dishing up some of the best food in the country. Admittedly, it specialises in Spanish-Moroccan cuisine, which isn't to everyone's taste, but Cosmo prides himself on being a sophisticated, highly-evolved type of guy. Indeed, he's the very embodiment of a metrosexual.
I was surprised, therefore, when he launched into an anti-Clerkenwell rant as soon as we sat down.
"You know how these people describe themselves?" he said, jerking his thumb at the other customers, whom he took to be a typical cross-section of local residents. "'Creatives'. Can you believe that? Just because they work in converted warehouses they think they're 'creative'. It's like the way television presenters refer to themselves as 'the talent'. Yeah, right. I remember a time when the words 'creative' and 'talented' were applied to writers and artists and musicians. Now they're just job descriptions for people with six-figure salaries who don't wear suits."
Having got that off his chest, I thought we could settle down and order, but something else caught his eye. It was a box in the top right-hand corner of the menu. "A voluntary £1 donation will be added to your bill," it said.
"I hate it when they do that," he said, jabbing the box so hard the menu began to tear. "I have no objection to giving money to charity, but what gives restaurants the right to add it to your bill without asking you? How would they like it if I just decided to deduct £1 from the bill and give that to charity without asking them?"
I did my best to get him to focus on the rest of the menu and, after he'd cooled down, we placed our orders. Luckily, he couldn't find fault with the food. We both started with prawns in a yoghurty sauce and, for our main courses, I had roast pork and he had grilled lamb. We liked the prawns, which tasted as though they'd been caught that morning and hand-peeled in the kitchen, and Cosmo loved his lamb. I was slightly less bowled over by the pork, which was a bit too greasy for my tastes, but the pepper and mashed potatoes that accompanied it were delicious.
By the time the bill came, I was congratulating myself on having chosen a good spot for our annual lunch, but then Cosmo remembered the £1 surcharge. He checked with the waitress and, sure enough, it had been added to our bill.
"I'm sorry, Toby, but there's no way I'm going to let you pay that," he said. "Send it back."
I objected that it was too embarrassing to send back a bill for the sake of saving one measly pound, but he maintained that it was a matter of principle.
"You British and your fear of embarrassment," he scoffed. "Don't you realise they're relying on that? They know that 99% of people won't have the balls to complain. You have to show them you're made of sterner stuff."
Reluctantly, I summoned the waitress and asked her if she could take the £1 surcharge off the bill. As I launched into a long, garbled explanation of why this was, the waitress looked at me like I was Ebeneezer Scrooge. Needless to say, I turned a deep shade of crimson.
"Well done," said Cosmo, as we left the restaurant. "I'm proud of you."