Saturday, 13 September 2014

Merchants Tavern

I like their coasters
My first choice for my birthday dinner was actually Gymkhana - unfortunately all the good press they are getting at the moment meant that I should have tried to book more than a week beforehand. I wanted somewhere with excellent food, with a pleasant buzz that allowed for conversation, comfy seats and that took bookings. I remembered what a lovely dinner we'd had at Merchants Tavern during their soft launch, and the deal was done. And fortunately, since I was meeting Paul after work and we therefore wanted to eat quite early, we were able to get a table.

We started in the bar, which wasn't nearly as busy as it deserved to be on a Friday evening. Paul had a pint of pilsner (easier to say at the beginning of the evening) while I had a fabulously refreshing cocktail called a Patronic - Patron Silver tequila, lime sherbet and Fevertree tonic. We decided they didn't call it a Patronus to avoid having to pay J.K Rowling royalties, but it's a bit of a shame.

The bar snacks sounded really good, but we were bloody, bold and resolute and held off until we got to our table.
Good bread - nice crust, good malty sourdough tang
Choosing starters was easy, so we ordered those immediately but asked for more time to decide on our main courses and wine. Thereby probably calling down the wrath of the kitchen as we fucked up the flow of service, but the floor staff have apparently all graduated with honours from charm school, so we never felt that fury. Not even a twinge of annoyance.
The quail dish I'd ordered last year was too good to pass up, so we shared it. And it was every bit as good. The combination of the meaty quail, mousse-like foie gras, bitter radicchio, nutty hazelnuts and sharp creamy remoulade is sheer perfection.

We also shared a charcuterie platter. The one on the left is Jesus, a mild, very porky sausage, with coppa on the right. Can't remember what the one in the middle was - it started with B. It was good though, with that strong mushroomy aroma of fermented cured meat.
Eventually we made decisions about the main courses. I had a dish very similar to the one Paul had last time, although his was brill and mine was monkfish. Beautifully cooked fish, ever so slightly resistant to the fork but perfectly tender in the mouth, with occasional shreds of lemon zest perking up the creamy beans.
Paul chose venison, which came with a wedge of baked celeriac, red cabbage, a pear that tasted like it had been slowly roasted in red wine and spices, and a silken sheet of lardo. Absolutely wonderful. Every element was perfectly matched to every other element; just an autumnal plateful of exquisitely-judged cooking.
Venison, celeriac, pear and lardo
Instead of ordering side dishes, which sounded fine if not enormously interesting, we shared the vegetarian main course. Described as "miso glazed aubergine, black cabbage, sesame and barley", I was very keen to see how a not-Japanese restaurant approached nasu dengaku. Again, it was a lovely bit of cooking. Perfectly silky but not at all oily aubergine (steamed maybe?) with a light miso dressing, not the thick glaze of a dengaku sauce. Bitter, iron-rich black cabbage, which is, I assume, what they are calling cavolo nero to get it past people like me who reckon not to like it, but found it delicious here. Nutty, tender barley. Another very autumnal dish, very different from the Japanese way but equally good. Not to mention what a treat it is to see a vegetarian option that isn't a risotto or a pasta.
Aubergine, black cabbage, barley
Unusually, it was a chocolate dessert that called the loudest to me. Actually I would have gone for the blackberry posset left to myself, but the chocolate dessert was the one we could agree on to share. A sublimely soft, velvety dark chocolate tart, with the lightest honeycomb on top and salted almond ice cream. I think salted almond should be the Next Big Thing after salted caramel.

On the dessert and fortified wine list, was something that neither of us recognised, so Paul ordered it out of curiosity. It turned out to be Barolo Chinato, which is widely considered to be one of the better matches for chocolate. So, purely by accident, we ended up looking properly knowledgeable. It was an extremely good match (I had an oloroso, which wasn't quite sweet enough for the dessert) with a touch of the bitter herbal quality that Campari has.
While we waited (a bit too long, they'd become really busy and there was a lapse in communication) for the bill, we were given warm lime madeleines. Not a bad way to celebrate a birthday at all.


Nicky Richmond said...

Makes me want to go back. That chocolate tart ....

Joanne said...

What a lovely birthday meal! Sounds like you guys had a great choice in venues.

Alicia Foodycat said...

Nicky - the tart was amazing. Go back!

Joanne - we are very lucky!

Kavey said...

Great choice, sounds like the perfect way to celebrate. Hoorah for birthdays and birthday eating!

Zaika of Kensington said...

Lovely blog post. Thanks for sharing.


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