Adam Coghlan is a food and restaurant writer based in London. He is also the head of content for London Restaurant Festival. He has a weakness for Worcestershire sauce crisps.
Jill Freeman lives in Hertfordshire, works in office management and eats out once or twice a month. She loves The Waffle House in St Albans – especially its bacon and banana spelt waffle.
Mere, in Fitzrovia, pronounced ‘Mary’, is the first restaurant from MasterChef judge Monica Galetti and her sommelier husband David. Head chef Renée Miller delivers a menu that features six options per course, all dependant on market availability – try scallop with black curry, basmati, lime, kumquat and puffed rice for starters; a main of roast squab breast with confit leg pastilla, cauliflower and rhubarb; and blood orange mousse with yogurt sorbet, lemon confit and grapefruit for dessert.
An extensive wine list includes both new and old world options, as well as reserve vintages. The ground level bar area features an Indian granite-topped bar edged in zinc, while the restaurant itself is decorated primarily in blues, greys and deep yellows, with dark oak flooring and mirrored glass wall panelling. As you enter the bar area there’s a signature showpiece created by English artist Warren Kerley made from hundreds of metal champagne cork tops.
Our pro says…
2017 is a year in which some of the restaurant industry’s biggest hitters re-enter the fray: Clare Smyth (Restaurant Gordon Ramsay), Claude Bosi (Hibiscus) and Tom Kerridge (Hand and Flowers) are opening new sites. Another is Monica Galetti – the former senior sous chef of Le Gavroche and MasterChef judge. I wondered to what extent Mere might be an exercise in reinvention.
On paper the three-course set lunch, at £35, looks good value. Two plates in, I’ve decided it isn’t. A starter of two cheddar and mustard croquettes includes, weirdly, a piece of charred broccoli stem. I’m happy to accept thrift from a set menu, but expect a modicum of ingenuity, too. *I was not recognised.
Though the cheesy balls are pleasant enough, the dish feels mean, almost asking, “what do you expect if you’re going to go cheap?” A piece of veal neck, insufficiently braised; the connective tissue intact and accompanied by a forgettable white bean and winter vegetable ragout, was similarly mediocre. A lime brûlée with white chocolate ice cream was good, but a cheese plate featured good cheese served at the wrong temperature.
Dishes from the à la carte are better: a bowl of wild mushroom and caramelised onion tortellini in Marmite butter is savoury, sweet and moreish. A plate of roasted chicken breast, confit thigh, bread sauce agnolotti and more mushrooms with a lick of Madeira jus is quite clever comfort food.
Wine here, organised by Galetti’s sommelier husband, David, is a strong suit. My guest, the wine writer Zeren Wilson, observes, “A list assembled with experience which is erudite and characterful – wine obsessives will approve”. He enjoyed an off-dry pinot gris from Kumeu River.
Staff are numerous, well-drilled and personable but, like the dining room itself (we were the only diners for 40 minutes), seem to lack joy as they engage in a risk-averse strain of hospitality.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Away from the strictures of traditional French cuisine, I had hoped that Galetti would have embraced the industry-wide shift towards relaxed, ingredient-led neo fine dining. Patrons of Le Gavroche and fans of MasterChef may well rejoice: I can imagine this food being lauded by both groups. For me, Mere, alas, is merely ‘meh’.
Total for two, excluding service: £98
Our punter says…
We received a very warm welcome at Mere, where we had lunch during its launch week. Service was attentive but not overbearing – our sommelier knew her wines, spoke confidently and made excellent recommendations. Plus Monica Galetti greeted every table while we were there, chatting enthusiastically about the new venture.
Black curry scallops to start, matched perfectly with a riesling kabinett, was our favourite dish of the night, delivering on both taste and appearance. I found the flavours unusual (lime, kumquat and puffed rice were all in there), but also subtle, precise and absolutely gorgeous.
For mains we had beef (30-day aged sirloin, glazed cheek and tarragon crème fraîche) matched with Mitolo Jester cabernet sauvignon; and roast chicken breast with confit thigh, wild mushrooms, bread sauce agnolotti and a Madeira jus (again, expertly matched with an Austrian white wine this time made from a grape called rotgipfler). We loved the sweet onion beignets – basically deep-fried choux pastry pockets – that came with the beef: an innovative, fun touch. The chicken was a triumph – it had a creamy texture that contrasted beautifully with the crisp skin it shared a plate with. The aforementioned bread sauce was actually served inside pillowy pockets of pasta – a quirky touch we appreciated.
Banana and coconut for dessert (a cream pie, with roasted banana and rum caramel) was beautifully presented and a masterpiece of textures: a soft mousse was presented in a satisfyingly crunchy pastry basket. Tart blood orange mousse came with ruby red grapefruit and was a very refreshing finish to our meal.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This is a high-end destination restaurant, where the food is good value given the kind of quality we enjoyed. Mere, a surprisingly light and airy restaurant, despite being in a basement room, had a really buzzy atmosphere, and tables are nicely spaced apart. Other than a dark brown wall at the rear of the restaurant that would benefit from a feature of some sort, we also loved the décor (especially the wine-box wall) – we’ll be returning for a special occasion.
Total for two, excluding service: £155
Images | Cristian Barnett