"A relaxed and informal dining environment with excellent food"Review Rating: Reviewed by KimT
As with any new and trendy establishment, various people had mentioned this place to me and noted the rave reviews. So I was fortunate that a business colleague had booked it for lunch.
It’s in the centre of the highly popular eating and entertainment area around Great Eastern Street – so it has plenty of competition, but it may have found its niche for the business market. It has a strong legacy – Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthnick of Connaught, Murano and Canteen fame.
Whilst it is located in a former Victoria warehouse and apothecary, it looks and feels like a pub. A smart one mind. As you enter, you are greeted with the aroma of wood smoke from a stove located in the bar area where you can enjoy a range of snacks.
The dining area is on the other side of the bar and is open so the transition is seamless. The tables are fairly standard wood and the cutlery decidedly plain and workmanlike. We were seated at a table that was placed along a green leather banquette beneath a conservatory-like roof that enabled the wintry daylight to filter through. It wasn’t particularly busy for a Friday lunchtime and most other diners appeared to be business folk.
There was an extensive wine list but we choose a carafe of Muscadet (£22) and requested some tap water. The waiter (who were all in shirt sleeves rather than jackets) was young and enthusiastic – possibly from somewhere in the North. We liked that he provided the prices as he described the specials. There was a set menu (£18 for two courses and £21 for three) but the options were limited.
I was pleased with my starter of white onion and chestnut risotto (£7.50) – the rice had the right degree of bite, it was creamy and had a pleasant flavour with a sprinkling of chives. The fragments of chestnut gave a nice texture but there weren’t many. The upside was that it was a generous portion and I wondered whether I’d be able to eat the rest of my meal.
My companion had chosen a magnificent option - roast quail, hazelnut pesto, remoulade and Foie Gras (£9.50). As she tasted each element another contrasting flavour and texture was revealed. She was utterly delighted with her adventure which included red cabbage and celeriac. The quail leg and breast fillet were cooked beautifully – lightly pink and melty soft. She declared the sauce amazing.
We had both chosen the same main course - roast Halibut, ham hock, leek fondue, romanesco and chicken broth (£19). It was served in a mottled stone bowl which we thought detracted from the presentation. It seemed almost Japanese. It was an interesting mixture of delicate moist fish (with a parsley glaze), kernels of ham nestled in smooth leeks and the chicken broth. It was fresh and light. The side of creamed potato (£3.50) was served in a tiny pan and was a little disappointing – watery and unseasoned and not creamy at all. More a puree.
My companion selected the blood orange posset (£8.50) for dessert and found the sharpness of the syrupy fruit well contrasted with the sweetness of the cream. She didn’t eat the little chocolate biscuit accompaniment.
Two warm madeleines arrived with my espresso (served in a fabulous red cup and saucer) and my companion found these to be excellent.
The bill came to £104.63 inclusive of an optional service charge.
Whilst there were some wonderful surprises – like that quail starter – I couldn’t quite decide whether it was an upmarket gastropub or a great culinary team in an ordinary pub. Either way, it offers a relaxed and informal dining environment with excellent food on the upcoming destination outskirts of the City, I couldn’t help wondering how the ambience might change for the evening.
KimT reviewed Merchant's Tavern on Mon 13 Jan 2014