Monica Galetti worked for many years at Le Gavroche, and apart from her role there as senior sous chef, she appeared as a scary chef/gatekeeper to Michel Roux Junior on the TV series ‘Masterchef: The Professionals”. In March 2017 she went her own way and opened Mere with her husband David, who was head sommelier at Le Gavroche. The main dining room is downstairs and can seat 64 guests, and there is a bar at ground level. The restaurant name incidentally, has a double meaning. Although it is the French for mother, the restaurant name here is pronounced “Mary”, as Mere is the Samoan for Mary, which is Monica’s mother’s name.
There was a six-course tasting menu available at £70, while starters ranged in price from £12 to £18, main courses £23 to £38 and desserts £9 to £11. The wine list ranged in price from £30 to £159 and featured labels such as Alpha Domus The Pilot Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 at £35 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £15, Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2015 at £55 compared to its retail price of £23, and d’Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz 2012 at £93 for a label whose current market value is £30.
Bread was made in the kitchen and was a miniature white loaf, served warm and with pleasing, soft texture (15/20). The amuse-bouche was a pear and rosemary buckwheat beignet with a vinegar reduction. This was rather disappointing, the batter quite heavy (perhaps I have been spending too much time in Japan with its feather-like tempura), and the pear and rosemary flavour barely detectable (11/20).
Tortellini came with wild mushrooms and Marmite butter, which was certainly an unusual combination. The pasta had good texture and the mushrooms were fine, the Marmite flavour actually very subdued, so much so that it was hard to detect at all (14/20). My starter was a pair of scallops in black curry, puffed rice, kumquat and lime. The scallops were cooked fine but the kumquats were very sharp indeed, and their flavour dominated the dish (barely 12/20).
Our main courses were better. Squab came with cauliflower, chard and a pastille flavoured with ras el hanout spice mix. The pigeon breast had been glazed with rhubarb and was nicely cooked, the vegetables were fine and the gentle spiciness of the pastille nicely complemented the richness of the pigeon (14/20). Lobster was poached and served alongside the claw prepared with kataifi (Middle Eastern pastry that looks a bit like shredded wheat). With this came potato puree, sweetheart cabbage and a bisque sauce. The lobster was very tender and the cabbage and potato were a pleasant earthy foil to the shellfish (15/20).
For dessert, chocolate and peanut cremeux came with peanut praline and roasted cocoa nib ice cream, with some popping candy lurking inside. Peanut is a strong flavour and it seemed to be overly dominant, but certainly the textures of the dessert worked well (12/20). Rhubarb and crème fraiche layers came with shortbread and white chocolate sorbet. This was very pleasant, the rhubarb not too sharp, though the pieces of rhubarb were a touch limp (13/20). Coffee was Lavazza, and fairly ordinary.
Service was very good, the staff friendly. It was only the second night of operation but there were no apparent teething troubles in the service operation at all. The bill came to £110 a head, with plenty of wine. If you shared a modest bottle then a typical cost per head would typically be around £80 or so. This is not absurdly excessive by central London standards but neither it is exactly cheap. It was obviously early days but there was too much inconsistency in standard between the dishes given the price point. The restaurant was very busy, with tables being turned already; hopefully the kinks will be ironed out in due course.