It’s a sad fact that sometimes, through one reason or another, beloved things are taken away from you before you’ve had time to say goodbye. Unfortunately the Potato Merchant on Exmouth Market has now closed down. We found out with heavy hearts, and was confirmed a few weeks later. Very sad – but we will leave this review up in remembrance… #spudmemorial
You can take two Irishmen out of their country, but you can’t take the country out of them.
On a cold and rainy day, as we were travelling to and fro’ doing a bit of blog research, we found ourselves mid-afternoon, sopping wet, and walking along Exmouth Market – an inviting, slender street filled with food vendors and dainty, unique restaurants and cafés dotted along it’s length.
As we walked down the street (quickly, braving the rain as we went) we were met with truly international fare – Vietnamese, Spanish, Italian, French, Gambian. However it was the lowly Potato Merchant which caught our eye early on and by the end of the street it was quite unanimous which eatery stuck in our minds to go back to. Maybe it was the unfavourable weather or maybe it was something innate within us; the call and taste of home willing us from within. We wanted spuds to comfort us that afternoon and see us on our way again through the day.
The exterior of The Potato Merchant looks like a deli or shop, and surpisingly enough, that is the function they have given of the front of the establishment, but impressively lying within is a full dining room which sits alongside a well-sized and stocked bar and the large, busy kitchen. The layout looks quite casual, but at the same time as capable to function as a warm dining room for the evening as it is a cosy and quick haunt for a lunchtime nibble or a quick coffee or pint amongst friends.
For our mid-afternoon munch, we decided to opt for two tapas-sized dishes each and a side to share between us, rather than one full main each.
I choose two fish dishes, not necessarily because I was in the marine mood, but more so I thought the fish would complement the potato present in almost every choice on the menu really well. Bear in mind, there are choices which don’t have potato in them – so you don’t have to love the lowly root vegetable to be given a seat and a warm meal, but it helps if you appreciate it all the same! I wanted to try the potato that the restaurant so fondly fancies and makes their proud moniker.
As it was a tapas-style selection, the dishes came at different times. The first to arrive was the haddock and potato soup (£5.50), layered with spice, smoke and saffron. Creamy, packed full of flavour and on a wet and miserable day a real boost of heat, colour and happiness as I downed each spoonful. It was a little salty if I had anything to complain about, but it was delicious in every way and was big enough to be enjoyed simply alone if rushed on a lunch break or just choosing something small to see you through ’til next mealtime.
The other dish I went for was the smoked herring and pink fir apple potato (£5). I wasn’t as impressed tucking into dish two. Both the herring and the potatoes, along with the slivers of thinly cut carrot, were cold. Though quite flavoursome, there was just a big womp womp in my palette as I made my way through the dish, not even fully finishing it in all honesty. Given a second chance, two bowls of the soup would have been far more worth my while – Patrick
The decor is something to warm the heart; loving Irish proverbs scribbled on to worn blackboards; sacks of potatoes at the door; vintage-looking wooden boxes displaying produce. We particularly loved that on the separation between kitchen and dining room there is a blackboard which details the daily variety of potato chosen for purpose in their (mash, chips, etc.).
I was slightly torn as to what to eat. A tapas-style menu is always a nightmare for me, as I am so indecisive at the best of times. However, seeing corned beef and piccalilli at the top of menu made my choosing all the more easier. I asked our waitress which dish was better: the fish cakes or the potato cakes. She instantly said fish cakes. Her conviction a fantastic indication, because when these lovely, perfectly circular and crunchy mounds arrived on my table, I wasn’t disappointed.
My nearest and dearest are totally aware of how I am about fish- I cannot stand looking at them without running away like a sissy, and when it comes to eating them, I am very fussy indeed. I tend to only go for the safer options, once they are skinless and boneless: salmon, cod, haddock, prawns (occasionally) and lemon sole. These fish cakes (new-ish to the menu, a bestseller at around £5) were a beautiful mix of warm fluffy mashed potatoes and well seasoned (what tasted like) salmon. The first bite into the crispy coating unleashed a huge poof of steam, which I cooled down with a spoonful of the fresh and tangy tartare sauce. I was practically full by the time I gobbled through the first cake, but I soldiered on. I’d highly recommend this dish, even for those not overly fond of fish.
My second chosen dish, the corned beef and piccalilli (£3.50), has left me a little perplexed. I didn’t mind, but like Patrick too, my next dish was cold. Some people hate cold food, but I somewhat expected it. I could tell the beef slices were not run-of-the-mill corned beef. It had excellent flavour – not too salty, and not too fatty either. A rich beef taste came from it. I only wished I had a freshly baked petit pain to mound them into. As for the piccalilli i simply wanted to bottle it and bring it home. Crunchy, zingy, delicious.
Now we haven’t mentioned the sides yet. The beef dripping fries, where to start? I love chips so much, and I haven’t had an unreal chip experience since eating at the best Friterie of them all, sampled during a trip to our much-loved city of Brussels earlier this year, Maison Antoine. There they double-cook their fries in beef dripping (as do The Potato Merchant) so instantly, the battle was on. I am pleased to say that these gorgeous fluffy morsels were just as good as their Belgian counterpart. If you are in the area, seriously, just drop in and order a plate of them (just about seven or eight served per bowl). You will not be disappointed. But eat them with a clean palate and savour the flavour for every second it is there. – Russell
We also ordered a drink each. Russell picked the Flying Dog: Doggie Style Pale Ale (anything with dog in the title is appealing really), while Patrick drank the Biddenden Kentish Cider, which had an 8.4% ABV. Both of which we were highly impressed with. Drink them quick, unlike the two of us who lingered over them for the guts of 90 minutes – they aren’t as nice when a bit warm. Better yet, the waitress served the beverages with chilled pint glasses – an exceptional touch!
What is it: A take-away deli and eat-in restaurant, great for an afternoon bite or an informal evening meal
Where is it: Along Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell in the borough of Islington.
Tube: Farringdon or Angel, smack bang between both.
Price range: Tapas-style if dining that way, so expect £3-£5 a plate, or mains each between £10 and £20. At least one potato side is a must too! Our meal cost around £31 for two.
Service: Friendly and attentive with a few nice touches, happy to advise us to move to a larger, quieter both and also the great recommendation of the fishcakes!