Perilla Team cook up Morchella near Exmouth Market

Words by
Izzy Schaw Miller

23rd February 2024

As a Harringay local, Izzy Schaw Miller is naturally drawn to foodies’ favourite Perilla. Leaving any bias behind and going further afield in Clerkenwell, she samples the new brainchild of restaurateur duo Ben Marks and Matthew Emmerson, Morchella restaurant near Exmouth Market - joined by Head Chef Daniel Fletcher - and is already a convert.

Morchella Restaurant - Whole baked poussin in a chilli saucez
Whole baked poussin in a chilli sauce

Morchella restaurant and wine bar opens in London

Walking down Exmouth Market in the early twentieth century, you might have wandered upon anything from an ironmonger or butcher to a linen draper or tailor. Today, the area looks unrecognisable. Having transformed into a pedestrianised foodie heaven, you’re more likely to stumble across locals, city workers and visitors alike feasting and drinking away, with the likes of Spanish-African tapas at Moro and Middle Eastern mezze and cocktails fiesta Shawarma Bar elevating the area to new heights. From this week, a stone’s throw away from the market’s beating heart, sitting proudly on the corner of Roseberry Avenue, is new restaurant and wine bar Morchella, which manages to give the impression of being right at home yet like no other.  

Morchella Restaurant, Exmouth Market, New Restaurant - Kitchen
It’s an open and laid-back vibe at Morchella, with vast windows and minimalist interiors

The second venture from the mastermind duo - Executive Chef Ben Marks (previously of NOMA and The Square) and restaurateur Matthew Emmerson (former GM at Polpetto) - behind celebrated Perilla, Morchella’s concept, Emmerson says, is to make fine dining more accessible.

Morchella Restaurant - Founders and Head Chef team
Morchella founders Ben Marks (right) and Matt Emmerson (left) with Head Chef Daniel Fletcher (centre)

A new Clerkenwell neighbourhood gem 

 If you’ve paid Newington Green an evening visit in recent years, it’s unlikely you’ll have missed Perilla, the candlelit spot buzzing with diners whose expansive glass windows aren’t afraid to let you have a good look at what you’re missing out on - or maybe that’s why you were there in the first place. Set in a former bank, its new sibling, Morchella is in an imposing, industrial building with high ceilings and striking interiors, but similarly to Perilla, once seated you immediately feel drawn to its warm, inviting atmosphere.  

Drawing further parallels from its sister restaurant, Morchella has a Scandi-type functional feel with soft, thoughtful touches, from aesthetically-pleasing art and pottery to sleek tableware that includes cutlery drawers neatly pigeonholed in each dining table. The owners want to continue the neighbourhood feel, but in keeping with the busier, more central Clerkenwell, Morchella’s 68-person covers, with an additional 14-person private dining room and 24 alfresco seats for the warmer months, boasts a grander scale to Perilla’s more snug 44 seats. The restaurant offers high ceilings and an impressive open kitchen centrepiece making for a relaxed, connected atmosphere as you can watch the chef team - led by Great British Menu finalist Daniel Fletcher - work up their culinary magic. 

Morchella Restaurant - Tables
Intimate seating in an airy setting

Innovative, indulgent and wonderfully done 

The thinking behind the cooking, Emmerson told us, is a “modern interpretation on Mediterranean classics”, a departure from Perilla’s “bastardised” Italian menu, laughing that it’s so disobedient it may offend Italians, who notoriously take their food very seriously. The restaurant champions seasonal produce from artisanal Mediterranean suppliers and small British day boats and farmers, reflected in a short menu, which boldly stating two to three ingredients for each plate doesn’t give much away. As soon as I tried the first dish however, I could tell the cooking is a gastronomic symphony that’s as inventive as it is tasty.  

Unlike many restaurants, where it can seem a waste filling up on empty carbs before the meal has even arrived, starting with the bread here is a must. It’s a pepperdule focaccia that’s a deliciously fluffy consistency, baked with seaweed reminiscent of the coast and complemented with an aromatic oil. We then plumped for feta parcels, fried to create a thin, delicate crisp outside with a soft spinach middle. Following that it was salt cod churros which arrived looking like long thin chipolatas but don’t fool you for long, as one mouthful with its homely tomato sauce is exquisite. Each dish feels both light and indulgent at the same time, and perhaps paying homage to the morel mushroom from which the restaurant draws its name, earthy and nutty flavours consistently shine through. 

Morchella Restaurant - Salt cod
Salt cod - a savoury take on Spanish churros

For mains, hake with sobrasada from the basque country is nestled in a rich, peppery sweet sauce, infused with chorizo and nduja in a pungent harmony which our waiter points out “should be illegal”, and scallops come in an excitingly presented oyster dish, cocooned in a decadent buttery mushroom sauce. The standout for me though was the monkfish, lightly fried and swathed in a rich cuttlefish risotto with hints of fennel and woody flavours in a seemingly playful twist on Spanish squid ink rice.

Morchella restaurant, Exmouth Market, Perilla, New Restaurant - Monkfish and Cuttlefish
Tantalising monkfish and cuttlefish delight

Wines are as tasteful and interesting as the menu - seasonal and funky are key themes - and the Albariño, for example, and its sweet undertones, perfectly pairs with each dish. Bottles are grouped under Newcomers, Emile Wines, Basket Press Wines and Dynamic Vines to name a few. To the left of the dining area, there’s a cosy wine bar, an ambient evening venue in its own right for walk-ins only.

Morchella restaurant, Exmouth Market, Perilla, New Restaurant - Pleasingly-presented tart adorned with almond, armagnac and prune
Pleasingly-presented tart adorned with almond, armagnac and prune

The service led by General Manager Ludwig and Restaurant Manager Anthony is warm, personable and assured, despite it being the first official night of opening when SPHERE visited. I left feeling that even with the overwhelming array of eateries in Exmouth Market, I know I would be hard pressed to find somewhere quite as tempting to return to as Morchella. 

Morchella, 84-86 Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4QY, 0207 916 0492.

You can book a table here.