You can’t get a good meal in London for a tenner.
Flat iron was the first to change this, with their not-to-shabby steak and salad, served up for a single bill price. And I’ve now discovered a host of Islington-based French eateries which are offering gourmet dishes at criminally low prices. My scepticism had me almost turning around and heading out the door upon seeing the menu at Le Mercury, but thanks to a good friend of mine, I was urged to stay.
At one end of Angel, two restaurants face each other, a Mexican (well, French) stand off of fine French feasting at a pinch. La Petite Auberge is a welcome french bistro-cum-creperie that serves simple and classic country dishes, such as onion soup, farcis, boeuf bourguignon and rabbit stew.
And on the other side, Le Mercury serves a lighter cuisine, more attuned to the south of France. It’s an unassuming place, with cheery, home-style décor – tiled flooring, wooden tables and chairs, painted brick walls and dark wooden shelves lined with oils, books and cooking supplies. You’d be forgiven for thinking you were in the Côte d’Azur, less the weather and, well, French people.
We settled in with a carafe of pays d’oc Sauvignon Blanc – only £14.00 and it was excellent: smooth, citrusy, refreshing – and perused the menu. A starter of beef carpaccio with a rocket and Parmesan salad for £4.85 – how could I say no! Delicately thin slices of magenta beef, peppered and seared at the edges, were complemented by a rocket salad jewelled with picked vegetables and Parmesan shavings: simple, clean flavours.
My main course was a pan-fried salmon fillet with glistening crispy skin, cooked in butter and served with thyme new potatoes and crunchy, vibrant green broccolini. My friend chose the sea bass, served over crushed mint pesto new potatoes, equally as refined.
Desert was a no brainier for both my friend and I – only the crème brûlée would do. A classic, light, yet decadent ending. The most perfect thin sugar crust – we both took pleasure in cracking the top[!] – and creamy vanilla custard, not set firm, but smooth and velvety, as it should be.
Served on more expensive crockery and linen tablecloths, a restaurant could have charged double for this meal. But it wouldn’t have made the experience any better. The simplicity, charm and great service of Le Mercury is sure to have diners returning again and again. I know I’ll be back soon.
La Petite Auberge
An equally French interior, with wooden tables and chairs topped with checkered table clothes, tiled floors and window shutters, La Petite Auberge is a welcoming and cosy room in which to enjoy a meal. My friend and I browsed yet another excellent list of wines and settled on a well-rounded Chablis and vibrant rosé.
Having been to this restaurant many times before, I let me friend take the lead ordering a couple of starters to share. She said that I just had to try the breadcrumbed, fried camembert, with berry sauce and parsley, and how right she was. Golden, crisp, oozy, pungent and sweet; this turned out to be the star dish of the entire meal. The second starter was garlic king prawns in a vodka, chilli and lemon sauce; bright and punchy flavours that paired well with a little peppery rocket.
While she went for a juicy steak, smothered in a rich shallot and red wine sauce and accompanied by a wedge of heavenly, cheesy, layered potato goodness, the chance to get creative won me over; La Petite Auberge lets diners design their own crêpes and galettes from a selection of vegetables, proteins and cheeses. Taking inspiration from the classic versions on the menu, I added a fried egg and fine asparagus tips to a creamy mushroom and spinach base, all wrapped in a tasty buckwheat galette.
140A Upper Street
T: 020 7354 4088
Open 12:00-13:00 (Mon-Sat) & 12:00-23:00 (Sun)
La Petite Auberge
283 Upper Street
T: 020 7359 1046
Open 11:30am-23:00pm (Mon-Thurs); 11:30am-23:30pm (Fri & Sat); 11:30am-22:30pm (Sun)