Saturday, 14 July 2012

Review: Le Mercury, Islington, London

Simple, affordable food can be found at Le Mercury, a lovely no-frills French bistro in Islington. My sister, who has recently returned from a year of study in Copenhagen, was in town and we were keen to get some tasty grub that would satisfy without breaking the bank.

We window-shopped our way along Upper Street; Le Mercury is virtually equidistant from Angel and Highbury & Islington stations, which makes is pretty well connected. We wandered in for a late Saturday lunch to find the dining room busy but we were quickly welcomed and shown to a table.

The setting was ideal for a casual lunch as the surroundings were rustic and unpretentious while the service was prompt and friendly. The menu is simple with a fixed price for starters, mains and desserts, though there are a few seasonal specials that buck this trend. There were about eight options for both starters and main courses - plus one or two specials - which reflected the establishment’s French roots.

Our starters arrived promptly. The beef carpaccio was peppery and tender which was complimented beautifully by the rocket salad that it came with. The portion was ideal for whetting my appetite for the rest of the meal. My sister’s chévre salad was a generous slice of grilled goats cheese on a round of baguette with plenty of salad and lashings of nutty pesto. We found it very hard to decide what to have – I’ll have to return for the poached pears with walnuts and blue cheese.

As our empty plates had been whisked away, our mains arrived. The grilled duck breast was beautifully cooked; barely a hint of pinkness lingering in the meat with plenty of moisture still in the meat. I would have liked it to served slightly rare and would specify this next time. The accompaniments of finely sliced cabbage, garlic mash and delicious jus made for an extremely filling meal. No faults to mention on the roast saddle of lamb either – the meat was tender and juicy. It was served with grilled courgettes which provided a nice contrast.

Le Mercury would be ideal for a slap up family meal or get together with friends. The prompt, unobtrusive service could make it a winner for a quiet dinner date too. We enjoyed two courses for around £12 a head (though we didn’t peruse the wine list) so it provides great value as well as quality.

Le Mercury can be found at 140 Upper Street, Islington, London, N1 1QY Tel: 020 7354 4088. Starters: £3.95. Main meals: £8.95. Dessert: £2.95. Nearest Tube: Angel and Highbury & Islington.

Looking for other options in Islington? Find out more about Ottolenghi's fantastic salads and baked goods to take away or The Castle's tasty pub gruff and great bar.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Chocolate covered coconut macaroons

The world is going mad for macarons, the multi-coloured garish almond based meringue confections popular for afternoon tea around the world. Since I started working in London, I've seen swathes of tourists clutching pastel paper bags from the likes of Laduree. They're not the kind of thing that you find in Somerset! 

I'm partial to the odd macaron; they're cute, (dare I say) girlie and wonderfully bite-sized. However, they are a bit of a pig to bake. Achieving that light and fluffy texture is rather unpredictable, much like the somewhat troublesome meringue. If you're in need of a tasty sweet snack, maybe it would be better to by-pass the chichi and look a little closer to home. 

Macaroons (note the double 'o') are easy to throw together and provide the same deliciously sweet hit without the kitchen faff. According to the wonder that is Wikipedia, English macaroons and French macarons share the same Italian word maccarone or maccherone which derives from ammaccare meaning to crush or beat. Don't run away in horror; this refers to the crushed nuts that are the main ingredient of both recipes. Both are cousins of amaretti, the crunchy Italian almond biscuit. It's a very European affair.

I adore this recipe because it really is so simple. Bung the ingredients together, shape and pop in the oven. Decoration is optional but I like any excuse to mess around with chocolate. I've made these several times and they're an ideal mid-week bake because they're quick and easy to make out of ingredients that tend to lurk in the back of the larder. Oh and they're naturally gluten free too! 

Coconut macaroons
Makes 16 – 20

2 egg whites
300g unsweetened grated coconut (or the same of desiccated coconut)
3 tbsp runny honey (omit if using desiccated coconut)

To decorate
150g dark chocolate
10 glacé cherries (optional)

 - Preheat oven to 180C and line a baking tray with a silicon or greaseproof paper.
 - Whisk together the egg whites and honey (if using).
 - Add the coconut and stir until coated.
 - Scoop out tablespoon dollops of mixture, compact slightly and evenly space on baking tray.
 - Bake for 10 – 12 minutes or until golden brown.
 - Remove to a wire rack and allow to cool.
 - Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of boiling water.
 - Meanwhile, halve the cherries so that they’re ready to garnish.
 - Dip the flat base of each macaroon into the chocolate and place on a tray covered in silicon or greaseproof paper. If you want a particularly luxurious macaroon, allow these to cool and dip again.
 - Drizzle the top of the macaroons with melted chocolate and garnish with a half cherry, dipped in a little chocolate to act as glue.
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