Five Forks-Up

tableType “cheap French restaurant Angel” into Google and Le Mercury tops the results. Even amongst the myriad restaurants of bustling Upper Street, it is something of an institution – so much so that about a year ago it opened a second branch, Le Mercury (deuxième), with an identical menu just a few doors down the road from the original. My dining partner and I were, naturally, curious to see whether Le Mercury could live up to the hype and, whatever our experience, I was keen to put my own spin on it in a restaurant review. Having called to book a table on a Saturday morning for dinner that same night, I was told that the original restaurant was full, but they could just squeeze us in at the deuxième.

Carpaccio de Boeuf

The menu at Le Mercury is short and simple: all starters are priced at £4.45, all mains at £9.95, sides at £1.95 and desserts at £3.45, so it seems a sin to have anything less than the full three courses. To begin, my dining partner went for Calamaris Fris – these were excellent, crispy battered and deep fried tender calamari served with a generous dollop of home-made tartare sauce. I chose the Carpaccio de Boeuf, which was sliced thicker than I had been expecting but was delicious nevertheless – the smooth flavour of the beef was brought to life by a garnish of peppery rocket leaves, sweet, finely chopped red pepper relish and brilliantly salty capers.

Filet de Loup de MerFor main course, I enjoyed the Filet de Loup de Mer (sea bass), which was lightly pan fried and served delicate and flaky but still succulent and moist – the only slight disappointment was that the skin hadn’t been crisped. The plate beneath the fish had been liberally drizzled with an unusual but delectable minted pesto, while the accompanying crushed new potatoes were flecked with roughly sliced mint leaves which brought a great touch of freshness to the dish. A side of perfectly al dente butter sautéed green beans and sweet, thick sliced boiled carrots was the perfect size for sharing. My dining partner was keen to have a starch to accompany his main of roast saddle of lamb with grilled courgettes and rosemary jus, and had thought to order a side of French Fries, but was happy to hear from our highly professional waiter that this was unnecessary as the lamb also came with mash. Although I loved my fish, I have to confess to just a touch of food envy, as my dining partner’s lamb was an almost impossibly tender, melt in the mouth piece of meat heaven, whose flavours were beautifully enhanced by the subtle rosemary scent of the surrounding jus.

Dark Chocolate Rart with Vanilla Ice Cream

Come dessert, while my dining partner enjoyed a surprisingly light mascarpone cheesecake with strawberry coulis, I was torn between most of the items on the menu and it took me some time to finally decide on a dark chocolate tart with vanilla ice cream. In the event, I was infinitely pleased with my choice. The pastry base was extremely thin, and the inch thick layer of dark chocolate ganache topping was Mascarpone Cheesecake with Strawberry Coulispure decadence on a plate – sweet but not cloying, richly dark but not bitter, with a thick fondant texture that filled my mouth with fantastically intense chocolate in every bite, while the delicate vanilla notes of the ice cream provided a pleasantly refreshing contrasting flavour.

Le Mercury’s wine list offers a fair selection of bottles from both the Old and New Worlds, all at a reasonable price, though with only three whites and three reds by the glass. My dining partner enjoyed a full bodied Australian moon harvest Shiraz (£4.95 per glass), while I went for a dry but surprisingly aromatic Chardonnay Vin de Pays de l’Aude (quite delicious and a bargain at just £3.95 per glass).

The service at Le Mercury simply couldn’t be faulted. Drinks were served impressively quickly – we had barely asked for our second glass of wine when it was presented and our empty glasses whisked away. Food was brought from the kitchen promptly, but enough time was left between courses that we never once felt rushed. On arrival, we had been greeted by a polite but clearly busy waiter, who offered us the choice between two vacant tables in the already lively dining room. We weren’t too keen on sitting elbow to elbow with another couple, so we chose the table that stood alone. Just to the side of the kitchen door, we were almost directly in the path of the waiting staff who stepped nimbly around us as they passed swiftly back and forth laden with full and empty plates. From my seat, I had a great view into the kitchen – the care that was taken with every dish plated up and the speed at which it all happened was actually quite hypnotic.

We left Le Mercury pleasantly full, thoroughly impressed with the quality of the food and service, and quite delighted with how small a dent in our wallets the bill made, as three courses, a shared side dish, plenty of wine and a generous tip still came in at less than £30 per head. There’s no doubt about it, Le Mercury is well worthy of the full five Forks-Up.

LE MERCURY {deuxième}
154-155 UPPER STREET
LONDON
N1 1RA
T: 0207 354 4088
 

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