The 130 seater restaurant is a collaboration between Angela Hartnett, Canteen founders Dominic Lake and Patrick Clayton-Malone, and chef Neil Borthwick.
The space has been given a lovely make-over – think exposed bricks, low lighting and leather banquettes with the kitchen in full view.
The chef has cooked in some serious kitchens in the past including The Square in Mayfair, but the menu here showcases his flair with a multitude of flavours and textures while retaining a certain simplicity – not quite ‘tavern’ cooking as the restaurant’s name might suggest though.
I visited the first time during the 50% off soft opening and left somewhat underwhelmed with the overall experience – some high prices and rather small portions to be exact.
A return visit a few weeks later showed the true reason for a soft opening – it’s the time for a restaurant to find its feet, iron out any kinks and react to early customer feedback.
Price adjustments and the addition of side orders (including a delicious ‘baked potato puree’) made all the difference for me and resulted in a wonderful dinner in a polished, grown-up restaurant with just the right amount of cool.
Starters were the real highlights, particularly beautifully presented scallops with crushed pumpkin and trompette de la mort (pictured above), and an intense, perfectly autumnal, Hogget broth with a Berkswell cheese on toast accompaniment.
Main courses include thick chunks of monkfish on a bed of mussels and chervil ragout, and Gloucester Old Spot Belly with roast cauliflower and savoy cabbage getting the balance of crunchy crackling and tender meat just right.
With a nod to the ‘tavern’, the bar at the front of Merchants Tavern offers its own bar menu and a range of beers on tap.
It also offers excellent cocktails – Try the Merchants Negroni (gin, Campari, Sacred Vermouth, grapefruit bitters, grapefruit twist) or the Charlottes’ Rules (Aperol, Campari, gin, giner ale, lime juice, orange). I may have tried a few.
Whether you just visit for a drink and some bar snacks or for a lunch or dinner in the main dining room, Merchants Tavern is an excellent addition to the Shoreditch restaurant scene. Some tables at Merchants Tavern are also available for walk-ins.