london 1220


Clerkenwell, EC1R

Morchella is one of several exciting new openings at the moment. Having been impressed by Ben Marks and Matt Emmerson’s first restaurant Perilla in Newington Green, and the general quality of other openings such as Arlington, my expectations were high. With an experienced team at the helm, a foodie location in Exmouth Market and February’s beta testing done, what could possibly go wrong? Well, a few things, unfortunately.

After giving it at least a month to settle in (I don’t review soft launches on principle), it was pleasing to see this former bank – three times the size of Perilla – was packed to the (very high) rafters. However, the booked table wasn’t ready. It wouldn’t be ready for another 45 minutes. A minor delay is a tad irksome when you’ve turned up on time but 45 minutes? What if a customer is on a one-hour lunch break, has a train to catch or a cat to pick up from the vet? Now, I have the patience of a gravestone, but once the ten minute wait calcified into half an hour I thought about leaving for Brutto or Origin City down the road. But no – I committed myself to reviewing this place. Apologetic staff dressed in khaki green shirts like extras from M*A*S*H proffered a compensatory aperitif in the adjacent candlelit wine bar (which also seemed to be a waiting room for other tables running late too).

Rather crushingly, the only martini on offer was the worst possible iteration of the drink: the dirty vodka variety. A gin martini with a twist wasn’t possible as the cocktails are all pre-batched, I was told. OK, fair enough: this is a wine-led restaurant and not a bar, though they charge around £12-14 for these and so some degree of customisation is reasonable to expect. So, a Negroni it was to be. Or wasn’t, as this was served with a block of ice as opaque as a cataract. Personally I’d prefer it if a restaurant didn’t offer cocktails at all than serve something half-hearted, especially at a price point on a par with most cocktail bars.

The clock ticking, the stomach rumbling and a second mea culpa drink on the house – this time a glass of Folias de Baco from Dao, Portugal (their house fizz). I blame myself really for accepting anything described as “a bit funky” but this pét-nat was like drinking carbonated bodily liquids from a Fremen stillsuit. Later, a Pinot Noir, which benefits from a little chilling, was served in a warm glass straight out of the dishwasher – a surprising rookie mistake.

After this somewhat inauspicious start, it was time for some food. Is it Spanish? Greek? Italian? It’s all of these, which reflects London’s beautiful diversity and is an admirable middle-finger salute to Brexit, but taking a broad-brush approach has its risks: conceptually, it ends up being like one of those pop albums that’s just a collection of nice songs with no discernible through-line; in terms of kitchen skills, the cooks can spread themselves too thinly.

For snacks, vitello tonnato in roll form with well-dressed leaves was joyous, whilst the bitesize spanakopita (Greek spinach and feta pie) had a wonderfully smooth filling, though it would be improved if the dill was evenly distributed throughout rather than oddly concentrated at one end.

Moving on to dishes requiring cutlery (said cutlery to be found in a drawer under the table, like a dentist’s tray of implements), pork jowl was tender with a crisp skin and a tongue-like layer of membrillo on top. The quince gel and pork worked well together but it cried out for some jus to counteract the inherent salt and fattiness, the hidden onion compote not quite cutting the mustard (perhaps more “Fremen fizz” on the side would’ve helped but I couldn’t drink any more of that).

Then, hake with sobrasada (a Majorcan soft-textured sausage akin to ‘nduja). The fish flaked as it should but hopefully this isn’t hake news: it can take a punchier accompaniment. For some reason the spicy sausage sauce was just underwhelming. The dish had also gone cold.

The Parmentier potatoes were seasoned well and pleasingly loaded with garlic but the outer surfaces were harder than a Brazil nut encased in a Viking helmet; whenever you pierced one with a fork they would ping off, invading the neighbouring table’s airspace. Combined with the comically large sprig of rosemary across the top, these projectile spuds could be a new Cluedo weapon (let alone damaging to the bank balance at £7.50 for a side).

Call me old fashioned but it’s nice to round off a meal with an espresso; indeed, what could be more pan-Mediterranean? At this point they had been fully open for five or six weeks but still sans coffee machine, apparently. Of course, issues with suppliers aren’t their fault but it’s surely not beyond the wit of man to offer an alternative, maybe even (dare I say it) buy a temporary Nespresso machine from John Lewis or some cafetières for filter coffee (and order in some clear ice whilst you’re about it).

At least the final thing I tasted was the sublime lemon tart. That was truly superb: a sharp filling, deftly-made pastry and a little brûléed caramelisation on top.

Yes, I’m going to be that grumpy, fastidious contrarian who says they don’t get the hype but the experience as a whole wasn’t worth a bill just shy of £100 (inclusive of service). That said, Morchella is not without hope. Despite the missteps, the serving staff’s positive attitude shone through, and that will stand them in good stead. There is also a clear love for all things Mediterranean, which is no bad thing. Morchella’s heart is in the right place, or thereabouts.

Food & Drink3.56
about our grading system

84-86 Rosebery Avenue

April 2024


You Might Also Like