Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Le Merlin, Lower Clapton Road

At the end of February I wrote about the closure of a couple of gentrified Clapton restaurants and suggested a couple more might close. And sure enough, they did. The lovely Jackdaw Jazz Cafe shut its doors in April, the wine-cum-furniture shop (yeah...) Residence looks like it's shut, Senegalese cafe and music bar Little Baobab shut in April (from a spot which has also seen Riley's and Candela shut...), and a few more have their leases up for sale even though they're still trading.

But as one story ends another begins. A couple of interesting new business have opened on Lower Clapton Road, and there are rumours of a couple more big openings in the works. One of the more low key new restaurants is Le Merlin - a creperie.

It's not the first creperie in Clapton, but it's head and shoulders above the other one. This is the real deal. Authentic savoury galettes and sweet crepes, Breton cidre, craft beers and a small selection of wines. And Orangina, naturelment. The menu is broad but stays true to classic French flavours. Every dish sounds delicious - from simple classics like the complete, to more lavish combinations like scallop and leeks.

We try the complete (with added mushrooms). It's superb. The galette is tangy and crisp in all the right places, expertly folded. The gruyere has a good pungency to it, and the mushrooms are herby and full of fungal mustiness - a world away from the bland button mushrooms you might get elsewhere. The ham is good quality and the egg perfectly runny.

We also try a more unusual combination: goats cheese, bacon, caramelised pear and maple syrup. It works a treat. I'm a sucker for sweet and savoury hits (swavery), and this has it all with some contrast between the crispiness of the bacon, the soft saltiness of the goats cheese and the soft, rich sweetness of the pear. This is pure heaven.

The sweet crepes are worth saving some space for (I purposefully create space with a 40 mile cycle ride in the morning) - again, the menu has a decent selection derived from classic ingredients. There's chantilly cream, chocolate sauce, nutella, grand marnier and plenty of salted butter caramel sauce. There's no question for me: it's the caramelised apple with salted butter caramel and cinnamon - another rich, sweet and sticky combination of flavours. My other half recommends the melted chocolate and chantilly cream crepe.

The food is excellent, and it's matched by a convivial atmosphere. The staff are friendly, the kitchen is open with countertop dining around it, the decor is understatedly stylish - a deep industrial green, a soft cream and light woods. It's family-friendly, but doesn't feel like a giant playroom.

More importantly it's affordable - galettes start at £5.70, sweet crepes from £2.60. Yes, I know it's "just" batter and some filling, but the batter's great and the filling's great and it's just nice. I recommend it. It was busy on the Saturday lunchtime we were there, but slightly quieter in the evening. Not for long I suspect - I'm going to be here often.

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