The physical experience of being at Merchants Tavern brought back a flood of memories from the early noughties – a reminder of many a great evening spent at Cantaloupe, which used to occupy number 36 Charlotte road. The latest reincarnation of the space has retained the charm, warmth and atmosphere I recalled of that era, with Angela Hartnett and her team injecting very British influences into what’s a modern European menu.

A neon-dressed bar area does well to serve up pre-dinner cocktails, though the seating isn’t designed to let you spend too much time here comfortably, so don’t plan to linger long. The adjacent Merchants Tavern dining room is a very woody affair, modern and well designed, with the open plan kitchen tucked away in the back within line of sight. We enjoyed our plush banquette table, with a spectator’s view of the steady flow of diners coming and going that evening. Some great mood lighting and an overall atmospheric feel got us off to a very promising start.

Sadly, I can only classify the dishes as ordinary. I had a starter of tuna sashimi with pickled cucumber and avocado, followed by a main course of sea bass with mussels and baby carrots, and rounded off with dark chocolate mousse with cherry compote and sorbet ice cream for dessert. I thought the portions were a little mean, and my sea bass was in dire need of some flavor injected into it.

The Verdict
To separate what came out of the kitchen from the dining experience itself, I actually enjoyed my evening out. It’s a shame the food wasn’t particularly memorable, as the overall experience at Merchants Tavern was atmospheric, and the service should be mentioned for being on the right side of attentive. I’m not sure if my palate will be rushing back for a while.

Restaurant – 8/10
Experience – 6/10

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