None of it will set your world on fire but I don’t think it’s meant to. Merchants Tavern is all about good, reliable food. Think really well done, posh pub grub (sorry Angela).
Firstly I’d like to apologise for the slightly blurry, shaky pictures accompanying this review. I’m putting this down to the many cocktails we consumed here. It all started when our fellow diners were late, leaving us with rather a lot of time to kill…
Of course there are worse places to be left waiting than at a well stocked bar – especially one serving up such great cocktails. If you find yourself at a loose end pre-dinner, you won’t go far wrong with a Merchants martini no.1 (£8.50) or a Merchants negroni (£9.50). But be warned, having too many can play havoc with your motor functions – as we found out later in the evening.
Unlike so many restaurants in and around Shoreditch, Merchants Tavern isn’t trying to be too hip or trendy. In fact it wouldn’t be out of place in Soho, although it would be considerably harder to get a table. It’s a big place with a high ceilings, a skylight and an industrial feel (give or take the odd leather banquette). The tables are well spaced and there’s an open plan kitchen at the rear, overlooked by a bookable counter. On a busy Saturday night it has a great buzz and seemed the perfect place to enjoy a fun evening.
I don’t always see the point in ordering pre-starters but it would’ve been a damn shame to have missed out on their fantastic deep fried oysters. These are surely one of the most underrated foods around and were probably the tastiest things we ate all night.
The best starter by far was the roast quail. The addition of fois gras added a decadent richness and the quail was perfectly cooked and full of flavour.
Trotters on toast was always going to be an opinion splitter. As you might imagine it was extremely rich and perhaps a little too gelatinous for some. I liked the boldness of this dish though. They had made no attempt to dress it up, it is just diced trotters on toast.
Roast pork belly was very much in the same vein. Nothing too fancy – just simple, robust flavours. It was lovely and soft, not too greasy and importantly, topped with rather excellent crackling. Sadly though, our photo was just too blurry to include.
Roast Gressingham duck breast was altogether more disappointing. Shrunken and overcooked, we found the dish rather sad and insipid. It was almost like something you see in the early rounds of Masterchef that only Greg likes.
Our fellow diners went for the cote de boeuf – enthusiastically priced at £85 for two to share. There was a lot of beef on the plate so being the kind hearted souls that we are, we offered to help them out. For me, the cooking was just right but it was too rare for our friends’ tastes.
The waiter didn’t ask how they wanted it to be cooked when he took the order and if this is the only way it comes, surely that should be made clear. As a result, they made the mistake of sending it back to be cooked more. The problem is that when cooked meat is sliced, there’s no good way to do this and it predictably came back dry and brown from the oven. What a waste.
Desserts were even more hit and miss. The bitter chocolate tart had decent pastry and was silky smooth, yet it was verging on being too bitter (and I like dark chocolate). Eaten together with the ice cream, it had just enough sweetness, although a second scoop would’ve come in handy. The Mont Blanc was interesting and I really liked the nutty, chewy base but unfortunately the rest of it was strangely watery.
Despite the waiter’s oversight on the cote de boeuf, we were very happy with the service. We were initially told we’d have to give our table back after two and a half hours, however, we were never shooed away when our time was up, nor did they try to hurry us along (then again, why would they when we were drinking like fish).
On that note, there are only a couple of bottles of wine under £30 and you should beware of adding too many drinks to the bill or it will soon mount up. Ours came to over £110 per head with two bottles of (cheaper) wine, plus (admittedly several) cocktails.
Reading back through this post, it might sound like we had a terrible meal. On the contrary, most of the food was, well, nice. Nothing was terrible, none of it will set your world on fire but I don’t think it’s meant to. Merchants Tavern is about good, reliable food. Think really well done, posh pub grub (sorry Angela).
What we liked most here was the atmosphere. It’s a great place to come with friends for a fun night out. Decent food and excellent drinks, what more can you ask for in Shoreditch? Oh, and did I mention the bar?
Meal for four with wine and drinks : £446
Address: 36 Charlotte Rd, London EC2A 3PG
Tel: 020 7060 5335