Merchants’ Tavern // Shoreditch // London

Being somewhere between a bistro and fine dining is a bit of a strange place to be. Who are you trying to attract? Do you want to serve gutsy classics, but in a more elegant dining room? Can higher prices be justified for simple food just because of an elevated experience? We aren’t sure. And with wonderful examples of bistros and fine dining near-by, the concept of the Merchants’ Tavern might end-up confusing people.

On the starters menu, the scallops with trompette mushrooms are nicely balanced in flavour and are well seasoned. Though is this challenging gastronomy? Not really. Similarly, the bavette isn’t a wonderful example of what it should be. As well as lacking imagination, it’s pricey and better examples can be found elsewhere.

Then the mains, with a roasted monkfish, which lacks the wonderful finish that fish cooked in the oven should have. No firm outside with a soft, melting interior. Also, the portion is small enough to be tapas style rather than a main course; best to be avoided.

Finishing with a promising bistro classic – the baba au rhum – the Merchants’ Tavern fails to hit the mark again. The baba falls well below the Parisian and even Neapolitan standard of what this should be. The brioche is dry, not moist with the syrup as it should be. Plus, the customer isn’t given any extra rum to splash on the dessert to dress it as they’d like; half the joy of the dish.

If you want to create a bistro, have bistro prices. If it’s fine dining that you want, you need to pay a lot of attention to detail in the cooking and service. Menus need to be filled with exquisite cooking, punctuated with clever twists. The Merchants’ Tavern is sadly lost somewhere in between these two places.

We would suggest that rather than trying to be everything, the Tavern should try to find its own soul and essence. In its current state, the food is very corporate catering, which isn’t going to win it a great following. Though, with a bit of work, the menu could be spiced-up to offer dishes that warrant the prices that are currently being charged.

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