Treating myself when I was a student in London went two ways. Ordering two Domino’s pizzas and passing out to the flickering light of a DVD (there was no NetFlix, it was that long ago) or going to Le Mercury for a civilized dinner. The price of dinner for two at either establishment wasn’t actually that dissimilar back in the day, hence my enduring soft spot for Le Mercury eight years later. This candle-lit little bistro on Upper Street has been serving up affordable French fare for the past thirty years and has recently opened up a second location a few doors down called Le Mercury Deuxieme – but I still prefer the original location for the far superior ambience and old-fashioned charm. All of the starters, mains and desserts are a fixed price with an evolving daily specials menu. We started with the Ravioli de la Mer, filled with crayfish and lobster with a spinach and shellfish sauce – comfort food in the form of a demure starter.
I’ve found mussels to be a tricky thing to order in London. The broth tends to be overly salted or the mussels are overdone. Le Mercury gets it just right with their Moules Mariniere – a subtle white wine broth with a dash of cream, shallots, lemon and parsley – perfect for dipping the free bread basket in once the mussels are finished off. I usually just drink the remaining broth as a soup like the middle-class heathen that I am. I have to mention this complementary bread basket they present you with – it feels so old-fashioned and is served with a little dish of butter. Such a small touch but I love it. Takes me back to those halcyon days when restaurants weren’t so stingy.
The Magret de Canard is roast breast of Barbary duck, garlic potato puree, Savoy caggage and red wine jus. The flavours all go really well together and every time we order it the duck is always perfectly cooked with a bit of crispy skin.
Like a predictable old lady, I pretty much always get the Filet de Saumon. Again it’s always perfectly cooked – I think salmon can taste a bit dodgy when ordered in restaurants – a real hit and miss fish if I ever saw one. It can veer toward the overly dry but this seared fillet of Scottish salmon is always perfectly tender and goes well with the broccoli spears and lobster sauce for a satisfying meal.
We always order extra side dishes of French Fries and vegetables because why not?
See what I mean? The place has a simply delightful vibe. All of the starters are £4.45, mains are £9.95 and dessert is £3.45. Go to Le Mercury if you’re looking for a charming French-style bistro with affordable food, wine and a really nice atmosphere. I’d definitely leave the warmth of my couch for this. Dominos’ House Special pizza be damned.
140A Upper Street
London N1 1QY