To the casual observer, More may not seem like much. A small, nondescript café near London Bridge, it's the sort of place you might get a cappuccino from if the queue at Starbucks is too long. Hardly a destination restaurant, then – and not the sort of place you'd expect to see reviewed in a national newspaper.
But More is the brainchild of Theodore Kyriakou and Paloma Campbell, two of the capital's most successful restaurateurs. In 1995, they opened Livebait, one of London's first market-driven fish restaurants, and in 1999, they followed up with The Real Greek, which quickly became a Hoxton landmark. Both restaurants became successful chains, with Kyriakou and Campbell cashing out along the way, and they're clearly hoping to do the same with More. Can lightning strike for a third time?
Conceptually, More is all over the map. From the outside, it looks like one of those posh delis you might see in Primrose Hill – the sort of place Kate Moss might have "breakfast" in at 4.30pm. The window boasts an array of freshly prepared takeaway food, such as butternut squash, leek, feta and ricotta filo pie, and spiced black bean, vegetable and coriander soup.
Go through the door, though, and it looks like a greasy spoon, albeit one given a makeover by a Young British Artist. The L-shaped room is dominated by a long, curving bar, complete with red-and-chrome bar stools, while the main seating area is occupied by moulded plastic tables and smaller versions of the stools. You can take the restaurateurs out of Hoxton, but you can't take Hoxton out of the restaurateurs.
"The energy here is the same," assures Campbell, who is stationed at the bar to make sure things run smoothly. "We think Bermondsey is heading in the same direction." I find precious little evidence of this "energy" on my visit, though to be fair it is a Monday lunchtime. Only one other table is occupied, while a solitary man props up the bar. Nearby businesses include PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young, but More may be a little too cutting-edge for the local accountants. In any case, why schlep 10 minutes to a café when they've probably got perfectly good canteens in their offices?
"We'd consider ourselves a restaurant, not a café," says Campbell, sniffily.
A glance at the menu confirms that More takes itself quite seriously. While it offers a set lunch for £12.50, the à la carte menu is ambitiously priced. A starter of taglierini with crab costs £9.95, while seared, spiced venison steak will set you back £16.50. That's £26.45 for two courses. If you add a dessert of Colston Bassett Stilton and St Tola cheese, the total climbs to £33.45. And there's a bottle of wine on the menu for £58.75. I pity the working man who mistakes More for a greasy spoon. It could be the most expensive place in Bermondsey.
I start with hare and pork rillette accompanied by gherkins and pickled mushrooms, followed by slow-cooked lamb shoulder with flageolet beans, almonds, prunes, saffron, cumin and coriander. The rillette has a suitably coarse texture, without too much fat, but the flavour is a little bland, requiring some mustard to bring it to life. The lamb is similarly unexciting, a bog-standard Mediterranean dish. At over £20 for two courses, I was expecting them to be better.
I ask Campbell to explain the concept, hoping for some enlightenment, but she just gives me the usual guff about the ingredients being fresh, local and seasonal. Doesn't every restaurant trot out that mantra these days? I've begun to long for a restaurant that boasts its ingredients are canned, imported and out-of-season.
I've eaten in both Livebait and The Real Greek, but only after Kyriakou and Campbell had sold them off, so I've no way of telling whether those restaurants were better than More in their heyday – but it's hard to imagine them becoming successful chains if they were this uninspired.
Conceptually confused, and with an unremarkable kitchen offering mediocre fare, More is unlikely to be coming to a high street near you soon. Less can be more, as we know from restaurants such as Polpo, Russell Norman's hole-in-the-wall bacaro on Beak Street. But in this case, More is less.
Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook 10-11 needs help, 12 ok 13 pleasant enough 14 good 15 very good, 16 capable of greatness 17 special, can't wait to go back 18 highly honourable 19 unique and memorable 20 as good as it gets
More, 104 Tooley Street, London SE1, tel: 020 7403 0635. Monday to Friday, 7.30am-11pm; Saturday 10am-11pm. About £50 for lunch for two without wine
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Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2010'. www.hardens.com