Angela Hartnett is the chef of the moment, having just opened Merchants Tavern and about to launch Café Murano. Known for her relaxed ambience and clever flavour combinations, could her new restaurant in London live up to the hype?
It was the gentle smell of wood smoke that first hit me when I walked into Merchants Tavern, Angela Hartnett’s new London restaurant in Shoreditch. Emanating from the log fire by the bar it was a warming welcome that implied the promise of a good time to be had.
Of course, it helped that the decadent styling – all Gatsby-eque art deco banquettes and low-lit gilt lighting – hinted at an elegant kind of hedonism, and that the cocktail list, short and sweet, contained such forgotten favourites as the bitter and poignant Punt e Mes and splashes of Cremant, but there was a definite air of excitement amongst the gently buzzing crowd, a feeling that we were all right there in the restaurant of the moment.
It’s down to Angela’s alchemy. She may have left the cooking to head chef Neil Borthwick but her finishing touches are everywhere – the sense that diners are made to feel relaxed and looked after, like at her Mayfair restaurant Murano, and that the ingredients list is well considered, like at Lime Wood, the hotel she’s attached to in Hampshire. Angela is always about the ambience, about letting people enjoy the food and the experience and each other, as much as about the menu.But what a menu it is. Hogget Broth, a hearty barley and vegetable soup, came with a thick slab of gooey Berkswell cheese on toast (a rich British cheese also favoured by neighbouring chef Margot Henderson), whilst slippery strips of mackerel were the perfect salty foil to a sharp orange and chicory salad. We shared the cote de bouef, a mass of pink meat, salty on the outside, tender in the middle, a slick of creamy mash potato swirling around the edge, all perfect enough to overlook the slightly inept, if charming, service issues. Puddings were less memorable, though that could have been down to the Punt et Mes.
Merchants Tavern is a gem of a place – a classy bar/restaurant that, along with Hoi Polloi, is forming part of a new re-gentrification of Shoreditch. Smart and chic, friendly and warm, this is a place you’re going to love.
Merchants Tavern, 36 Charlotte Road, London, EC2A 3PG, www.merchantstavern.co.uk