The Potato Merchant, 55 Exmouth Market, London

What could go wrong with a restaurant dedicated to the humble potato, asks Lisa Markwell.

When I shared an office with my great friend Nina, the highlight of our day was going to Spud U Like for lunch. There wasn't much to choose from, it's true, but that suited me – a low-level starchy-carbs addict.

Now Nina's a world-famous casting director with her own empire while Spud U Like has almost disappeared. So imagine my delight at hearing about The Potato Merchant, a new spot in London's Clerkenwell specialising in spuds in all their glory. On a recent Saturday I took Mr M and Miss T along for a late, leisurely lunch.

It is on Exmouth Market, a street dominated in culinary terms by the mighty Moro, and around the corner from the Quality Chop House, to my mind the most exciting restaurant in London right now. So… no pressure.

In fact, I suspect The Potato Merchant would rather not suffer any such comparisons. It is of the knockabout school of restauranting, where good service and precise cooking are less important than "vibes". This is a shame, as a potato-themed restaurant is a delicious idea – think of the truffled dumplings, piquant patatas bravas, shoestring fries and more that are wowing diners nationwide right now.

But back to the menu: there are nine spuddy side dishes (from Jersey Royals to dripping chips to dauphinoise), and plenty of tuber action on the mains. Think fish cakes, potato soup, tartiflette – plus steaks and pies. Don't think vegetables; there are hardly any – aside from the pots, just asparagus and lettuce.

Mr M and I share salt cod fritters, asparagus, dauphinoise, patatas bravas, and a steak-and-kidney pie. Miss T orders a sausage roll – at 14, she's a girl of simple tastes – while I force her to add lettuce, despite it coming with salad cream (sounds distinctly unpromising).

What unfolds is a slow-moving catastrophe. A pottery dish of scalding hot Spanish-y chips and a cardboard "punnet" of dauphinoise barely warm arrive together, like a terrible, terrible blind date. The flavours are OK, but dauphinoise is at its best bubbling fresh out of the oven. Like most potato dishes, it doesn't want to be sitting around. Salt-cod fritters are decent if greasy and the accompanying aioli is punchy.

Everything is on the small side (fair enough, so are the prices – from £3.50 up to £10), except the asparagus, which has a large dollop of mash beneath the handful of spears. Potato Overload Klaxon!

The sausage roll is a glazed roll spliced with two juicy, well-burnished bangers. Seems to be a decent example of the hangover brunch classic. I get a good look at it only to see dark "pellet" things in the bread and a horrible thought strikes me. It's not, it couldn't be…

I ask what we're eating, nervously. And am loftily told it's gratings of raw purple potato. Aha. Might be as well to say that before it's served, as it looks a helluva lot like mouse droppings.

Anyhoo, the biggest problem is the non-arrival of the pie. Again, a slightly less than placating explanation. "Oh yeah, that. I forgot to put the order in to the kitchen." Do we want something else? No, not really. The pie takes 12 minutes and is richly flavoured and (hurrah) piping-hot. What's it's not is a pie. Another cardboard box, with a cake liner, some stew and a postage stamp of pastry resting on top.

Despite being a carbfest, the erratic delivery and quality means we have space for pudding, and order a sweet-potato brownie and a potato-bread-and-butter pudding. Again lukewarm, with a tiny tepid puddle of custard, but both taste delicious and are imaginative uses of the ubiquitous ingredient.

This is all a big fat shame. I wanted comfort and casualness – but is it too much to ask that the right food, at the right temperature, comes at the right time? A manager (I hesitate to call him Mr Potato Head, but he seems to be running things) comes over to check on us. By then we've paid (the bill includes the late "pie" affair) and are shrugging our coats on. But people are arriving all the time, so perhaps our reaction isn't important.

Sorry, I know this is obvious, but The Potato Merchant is a Spud I Don't Like.


The Potato Merchant, 55 Exmouth Market, London EC1 tel: 020 7837 0009.£40 for two, including soft drinks

Three more specialisation sensations

Burger & lobster

This buzzing newcomer serves succulent lobster and great burgers. Go early or be prepared to queue. Four branches, see for details


The best steaks in London, say fans of these zero-frills bistros, in Olympia and Putney. Well-priced wines, too. See for details


A Soho newcomer whose noodle dishes are a cut above a large chain beginning with "W". 63 Dean St, London W1, tel: 020 7437 0071,

Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2013',

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: MI Developer

    £35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Fitness Manager

    £20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Manager

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Delivering an inspiring, engagi...

    Recruitment Genius: Learning Team Administrator

    £17500 - £20500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a great te...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions