Restaurant review: Merchants Tavern, Shoreditch, EC2A

The Merchants Tavern, photo Patricia Niven

The Merchants Tavern, photo Patricia Niven - Credit: Archant

Walking into celebrity chef Angela Hartnett’s Shoreditch joint, the Merchants Tavern, the first striking thing is it’s unrecognisable from its past incarnation as the trendy darkened bar Cantaloupe.

The revamp has involved knocking down dividing walls and fitting skylights, and the result is a sleek and sophisticated airy refit, with green leather furnishings, stripped back brick walls and polished metal mirrors.

The restaurant in Charlotte Road is the third launched by the Welsh-Italian chef who started out at the Connaught under Gordon Ramsay’s guidance, and became famous following her TV appearances.

While Hartnett’s role is restricted to consulting on the menu, her boyfriend, the head chef Neil Borthwick, conjures up an unpretentious modern European menu, inspired by the seasons.

My starter of English ­tomatoes, anchovy cream and black olive crumbs illustrated this perfectly, and I was impressed with the sourcing of black, yellow and red varieties of tomatoes. The dish was simple, unfussy and delicious, letting the high quality ingredients speak for themselves – and a precursor to the rest of the meal.

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Pesto is one of my favourite foods ever, as long as it’s freshly made and doesn’t come out of a jar. So my main course of pesto with steamed fillet of cod and spring vegetable minestrone did not disappoint. I’d never paired pesto with fish before, but the strongly flavoured sauce complimented the white fish perfectly and the result was light and incredibly tasty.

The dessert of mandarin sorbet, almond tuile and roasted plums was refreshing and tart, perfect for someone like me who’s lost their sweet tooth in old age.

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At £22 for three courses, or £18 for two, the set lunch menu changes daily and I think it’s a winner in terms of value and top notch quality. The restaurant also does Sunday lunch, and recently extended its opening hours on Sundays from noon until 9pm.

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