Merchant's Tavern, Shoreditch
This is the first review I've written for The Fabulous Foodie Blog where I didn't plan and choose the restaurant. For this review, I was invited here for an early Birthday dinner by one of my closest friends, also a committed foodie. I knew very little about 'The Merchant's Tavern' except that it was located in trendy Shoreditch, always a fantastic place to start in my opinion.
Food Journalist Ed Cumming channelled some very judgmental reservations about Shoreditch's food scene when he wrote about The Merchant's Tavern for The Telegraph in 2014. He described in his review how 'even before I stepped through [its] doors, I wanted to dislike this place'. I, on the other hand arrived at the restaurant open-minded and excited.
Our reservation was booked for 8pm and we found the restaurant with no problems, situated immediately off of Great Eastern Street at 36 Charlotte Street. The sign for the restaurant was lit in a very cool font and the deep red of the interior gave a very edgy and mysterious feel to the restaurant’s front that aroused my first impressions. As we entered into first half of the restaurant, we immediately found ourselves amongst a very animated crowd that were seated in bar area accompanied by a relaxed DJ on the left. The clientèle were in their late 20’s and up and this didn’t seem the type of place suited for Shoreditch’s young crowd, most likely due to the more experience menu of food and drinks.
We walked through the bar and wait to be seated. A waitress quickly greeted us with a warm smile and asked us where we’d like to sit. We chose to be seated near to the open kitchen, as we wanted to see the chefs preparing the food in front of us. As Cumming mentions, this is also means that they have ‘nothing to hide’; yes, and in this case something to be proud of too.
Our waitress hands us the wine menu and after an enjoyable read of their long wine list, I chose a glass of 2013 Bardolino Chiaretto, Monte del Frá, Veneto, Italy. (£8.00 by the glass 17.5cl, £20 per carafe 50cl). This is described as ‘Berry fruits & wild flowers, hints of mint & green apple’. One thing I loved about the wine menu is that they include a small description of each wine that can be ordered by the glass or carafe. This is mostly because I enjoy a glass of wine every now and then, but I am certainly no wine connoisseur. Even if I was an experienced wine drinker, learning a little bit about the excellent selection of wine means that the customers can be more confident in their choices and shows that they have gone the extra mile to make the customer’s experience more bespoke and tailored to their personal preferences. Needless to say, my glass of Bardolino Chiaretto was divine.
The menu was one of the best that I’ve seen and is purely based around food that is seasonal. This means that the food is at its peak both in flavour, harvest and demand. The menu offered us delicacies such as oysters, squid, pork, duck, smoked ham hock, braised lamb belly and so much more. We were swimming in choices, our mouths watering and both getting slightly high and drunk on the thought of all these heavenly flavours that we were about to taste.
We wanted something small to begin with; so we decided to share one of the ‘Small Plates’ that can be found at the start of the menu. We chose the Crispy Pork and Anchovy Cream (£4.50). This option is not for anyone on any kind of diet: pieces of crispy pork with generous amounts of fat attached and presented on top of a bed of anchovy cream. The pork was so succulent; the fat was not at all oily, overpowering or greasy but complimented the anchovy cream perfectly. Contrary to my concern that the anchovy cream may be slightly fishy or contain bones, it acted as more of a balance to the pork and was not at all fishy. This was definitely a #foodporn moment of the highest form.
We then shared two starters: the Quail, hazelnut pesto, remoulade & foie gras (£10) and the Crab tortello, lemongrass emulsion (£6.50). Both dishes were fantastic, full of flavour, smooth and were not too heavy. They were both not as I expected them to be both in taste and presentation but were more like personal variations based on popular European flavours. [I'm guessing this is where the French, Italian and Spanish influence comes into play.] My crab was wrapped in a light, black, square tortello (singular of tortellini pasta) and was extremely fresh. My taste of the quail and foie gras confirmed that my friend’s choice was equally satisfying.
Whilst eating, we thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere of the restaurant. A mix of electronic jazz fusion infiltrated from the bar into the dining area and was at a volume where we could still maintain an audible discussion. Our waitress, a South African lady, was notably superb. She was very attentive, friendly and made us feel at ease.
The restaurant was not over-crowded on a Friday night and the interior design consisted of deep green leather diner seats and small red and grey chairs that curved their way around the walls and through the middle of the restaurant. The seats were also not too close together so you felt you had a lot of room to be breathe and enjoy your meal. I often find myself in restaurants or cafes almost sardined in next to another party of diners; the Merchant’s Tavern had just the right amount of space. Candles were lit on every table and the overall lighting was dim, romantic and oozed sophistication without being pretentious.
Now for the main course. Meat was on our minds all day and it quickly became a match made in heaven for us and the Wing rib of beef, sautéed potatoes, green salad, bearnaise (for 2) £60. This soon arrived after our starters as a big plate of medium rare sliced rib of beef, a bowl of gorgeous sautéed potatoes, leafy salad and yummy bernaise sauce on the side. The quality of the beef was exceptional and it was certainly medium rare, exactly how I like it pink and red on the inside. I wasn’t left feeling like I needed to lie down afterwards which was pleasant both for my stomach and also as it meant more room for dessert!
My friend chose the Rum & dark chocolate mousse, cherry compote (£8.50) and I chose the Baked nectarine, vanilla ice cream (£7.50). My Baked nectarine and vanilla ice cream was very nice but the Rum and dark chocolate mousse was life-changing. It was presented in this soft, dark double cone mousse pod that was sitting in a pool of light cream. What looked like crumbled Oreos were integrated within the cream and tasted slightly salty like caramel and pecans. The mousse itself was like the heroine of desserts. My friend and I just looked at each other startled and speechless after our first few bites…. There were hints of chocolate, cherry, rum, pieces of crunchy caramel, salty flavoured crumbly pieces and then this light cream underneath to accompany it. The predominant texture was of the mousse pod that was so smooth, then subtle crunchy moments, then cream. It kept getting better and better with every bite. I wrote on twitter to the Merchant’s Tavern, that it gained top place in my list of favourite restaurants and I requested to our waitress to give our compliments to the chefs.
I really feel that a lot of effort was made to make sure that our experience was an enjoyable one. Our dining experience for a special occasion with 4 courses and alcohol was for around £60 per head, whereas Starters, Mains and a glass of wine would come to around £30. This restaurant gets my full recommendation and is great for a special occasion with families, friends and loved ones. Booking in advanced is advised.
Merchant’s Tavern website
Merchant’s Tavern on Twitter
Merchant’s Tavern Facebook