Mere: A top experience (November 2017)

A recent trip to Mere impressed highly. The three members of our party, who dined here midweek, are all sceptics by nature and try as we did to identify shortcomings, we struggled. From beginning to end, the experience is about understated excellence with high attention to detail. Diners enter a relatively discrete building at the northern end of Charlotte Street, away from much of the hustle and bustle of the area. The restaurant proper (tables and waiters) is nowhere in sight. This is a very clever touch: one can relax in the bar – which works as a standalone destination – and then descend at one’s leisure to the dining area in the basement. Both rooms were decorated intelligently with clear thought given to how to light the basement, to make it intimate rather than dreary. Our food orders were taken upstairs in the bar, meaning that the only focus downstairs was on the food – another clever idea, which minimises disruption and avoids unnecessary long waits. We opted for a la carte, although a tasting menu is also available. Diners choose from around half a dozen starters and mains, with a strong emphasis on seasonal ingredients. Monica, the head chef, takes her influences not just from classic French cooking, but also the South Pacific. All three of us were delighted with our choices, both in terms of presentation and taste. My octopus starter, which was served with fennel and a caper condiment, was delicious, with the flavours marrying harmoniously together. Meanwhile, my venison main was cooked to perfection – medium-rare – and paired beautifully with red cabbage, celeriac and juniper. The wine list was a joy to choose from: a white Burgundy with the starter and a New Zealand Pinot Noir with the main, both available in carafe format. Overall, this is a place about which its owners and staff seem to feel passionate. Monica did the rounds of the table, engaging with all the guests – something which is a rare as it is welcome. The only caveat – the experience does not come cheap: starters average £15 and mains £30. Add in a drink before dinner, wine, coffee and service, and one is lucky to get away with less than £100/head. But it is worth it!