Two outings in two days is a little unusual unless we are on holiday but that was the way the diary panned out as we headed once again to London, on a wet and not overly warm February Friday.  We were eventually heading to the O2 in East London but lunch was booked at the Merchants Tavern which is not too far from Old Street Underground station – just far enough away for us to get cold and wet – although we did manage to get the right (nearest) exit from the Underground station almost on the first try!  This part of London – sort of Shoreditch / Hoxton – is undergoing a swing back from the levels to which it had descended and no doubt the welcoming Merchants Tavern (MT hereafter) is part of this movement.

It seems that the front bar was part of one building and then a glass ceiling has been added to link to a huge space at the rear in another building (former warehouse perhaps) which contains the kitchen, dining area and an open fire – which in itself is adds to welcoming warmth.  Divested immediately of our coats and shown to our table it is worth noting that today we are not limiting ourselves to a particular menu!  MT is of course another Angela Hartnett restaurant but unlike either of the Muranos, it is not so completely Italian reliant and Neil Borthwick, as chef, is an influential element of the team here, together with other investors.  The lady is however building quite an impressive little empire!

My wife initially doubts her ability to eat very much as there is a high level of offal in the menus which she does not find atractive.  However the menu du jour provides her with a main course of a chicken and leek pie so she feels relieved by this discovery.  My choice was easy – from the “small plates” I chose the pigs trotters on toast as I like a nice bit of offal and then followed this with the ox cheek on mashed potato with pickled onions.  For those reading closely they will note that this is the same main course as yesterday with ox replacing lamb!  It sounded too good to pass on!  So we sit back and relax – we had half planned to waste the afternoon – but of course this dining room is attuned to city lunch hours and therefore they are well clued up to deliver reasonably quickly.

Pigs trotters was like a small stew on the toast and good comfort food – just right for the time of year.  I can also vouch for the quality (and quantity) of my wife’s cauliflower soup (of the day) as I had to assist her by eating about 40% of the helping.  When the main course arrives it looks pretty similar to the lamb at Cafe Murano and having sampled both I think the lamb was the better bet.  However distinguishing between the quality of the two lots of mashed potato was beyond me.  I can only assume they are both using the same recipe and the same approach.  A good solid main course, but we would have benefitted, in retrospect, from a side order of some greens of some description.  My wife had ordered some chips to accompany her chicken and leek pie and I helped her finish them off.  Apart from leaving some pastry which could not be detached from the pan in which it had been baked there were no remnants of her meal – which must be a good sign!

Alcohol? Yes!  We have a holiday booked for Sicily later in the year and seeing an inexpensive bottle of 2013 Catarratto, Ciello Blanco, Terre Siciliane, Italy listed it seemed to good to pass up the opportunity to become acquainted!  And we agreed it was worth becoming acquainted.  Inevitably when we get to Sicily we will find that the best wines never leave the area (it is the same the whole world over) but we have good reason to look forward.

However all pretty filling so today I opted for an extra spoon to assist my wife in consuming her pudding.  And the bill was £115 including service – which is the going rate in London for what we had, although I would submit that it would be easy to spend more as we were certainly not consuming the more expensive options.

Good service – not difficult as we arrived shortly before 2 which whilst it is not peak time dining there were still quite a few people around us, which I suspect reflects the more relaxed attitude to lunch hours with the typical art and design businesses based in the area.  Next to us a couple of gentlemen were in and out before we had finished and had time to discuss in detail the purpose designed wine cellar one of them had installed in his new house.

The Good Food Guide rating is 5 – “Exact cooking techniques and a degree of ambition; showing balance and depth of flavour in dishes”.  As already observed the meal we consumed here was a mixture of the main and “day” menu.  So a fairer test than of Café Murano and we agreed that it was better than the previous day; so the ratings seem entirely fair.

Out into the still wet afternoon and a quick flip on the Overground (once we found the station) and the Jubilee line took us to the O2. A film filled in the afternoon and in the evening the entertainment was at a high level of decibels as the Kaiser Chiefs sought to raise the roof. And towards the end of their set they powered through a magnificent version of “Pinball Wizard” – a nod to their forebears in the Rock business. All in all another great day out.