Autumn in Shoreditch and those evenings spent crammed into an industrially-dressed food truck park getting Aperol Spritz-ed already seem like a distant memory.
Thankfully, there are plenty of winter friendly eateries ready and waiting to help pick up the slack. Merchants Tavern, from Angela Hartnett and head chef Neil Borthwick, is one such venue that shines at this time of year.
The décor of the Charlotte Road Victorian warehouse – all dark timber panelling, cushy leather banquettes and warm lighting – beckons as a tantalising respite from the wrath of the winds of Old Street roundabout. But it is Borthwick’s talent for making seasonal produce sing that will have you hanging up your coat and settling in for the evening.
Autumn, of course, is also game season and an opportunity for Borthwick to get creative with the furred and feathered on Merchants Tavern’s menu. Partridge, venison and grouse star, with winter vegetables out in full force as the supporting act. By far the best way to get your game on with Neil and Angela is at the Kitchen Counter – a bespoke five or eight-course tasting menu with matching wines, dished up at the bar that surrounds the open kitchen so you can see all the action.
Groups can select their own dishes from the menu, or let the chefs decide for you, which is how we came to consume a rich game pate and a smoked grouse and endive salad not currently on the menu. The lardo-draped roast venison is served on a bed of crushed celeriac with a potato galette and quince; thoughtful composition that elevates the dish beyond a haunch of in-season meat.
A lull between courses offers the opportunity for a look-in at the frenzied but not quite frantic kitchen staff under the direction of Borthwick and, as a treat, Hartnett herself. Surely they’re feeling the fishbowl effect? There can be no leaning against counters or mopping of brows with an entire dining room watching. But you get the sense that Borthwick, and especially the famously hardworking Hartnett, wouldn’t allow that anyway, particularly in this, their season to shine.
Merchants Tavern, 36 Charlotte Road EC2A 3PG