6.30. Tuesday night. 140 Upper Street. Le Mercury. We were in need of a quick pre-theatre meal before the intensely cathartic play that is Ghosts at the Almeida.
Le Mercury was recommended to us by a couple of people. 'Great value and great atmosphere'. So we booked.
Through the window it looked perfect: packed full, candles on every table, gracefully shabby décor. We were led through all the tables, and it soon became clear that we were not going to be allowed to partake in this bustling, noisy, smiling atmosphere. We gazed longingly at the two empty tables as we were led upstairs, to a room much less darkly mysterious, with only two people sitting in the far corner. We were then led past all the tables that made up the rest of the room and placed on top of the two girls already there. This was a reminder of Ronnie Saunders Diners Union where we were also forced to fill up from the front, rather than using the rest of the empty space which was saved for invisible customers. Because of the lack of atmosphere, and the abundance of light, we noticed and commented upon the paper tablecloths and napkins, the budget glasses and cutlery. There was no atmosphere upstairs to make up for this. Two more people arrived and we couldn't help but laugh when they were placed in the other two seats in our corner, with the rest of the floor empty. To get their legs under the table, they had to ask another girl to move. If the waiters had been snooty Parisians they may have got away with it. But they weren't, so they didn't.
Wine and food was ordered. The menu made the value of the place clear. A glass of wine less than £4. The starts £4.45, the mains £9.95.
Calamari with tartare sauce; poached pears and blue cheese; goats cheese salad; sea bass on crushed potatoes. All fairly tasty, served at a good pace, and reasonable service, so really there was nothing to complain about. Apart from the fact that we could see Ottolenghi out the window across the street, the bowls of colourful salads heaped up high, the meringues and cakes making the window a rainbow of treats, the slick, chic design... Our beige food (for it was very beige) seemed rather dull.
Very reminiscent of any random Parisian bistro you wander into to escape the rain on a grey winter day, Le Mercury provided good value, traditional fare. But this wasn't a bistro which made your grey winter day a joy, and it wasn't a card you took home with you, and it wasn't a name you remember. But if you found yourself in it once more on another rainy day, it wouldn't be the end of the world, especially not for your wallet.
Highlight: the price
Lowlight: the seating plan