Little Mercies in Crouch End: “The cool and simple interiors are just the casual vibe we are craving”
Moving to Crouch End in February, in the midst of a lockdown, didn’t really do the area justice. The small high street, once a vibrant savanna of independent shops and tote-bag-wielding locals, dried up somewhat during the nationwide cultural and social drought. However, it turns out this small North London neighbourhood is blessed with cactus-like resilience. Much of the food scene thankfully appears to have survived due to die-hard customer loyalty – a promising sign if there ever was one. Though the cracked earth swallowed up a few beloved and now boarded-up spots, there is still an eclectic mix of ventures sprouting back up, from cafes and patisseries to restaurants and pubs, as well as a disproportionate amount of good pizzerias.
Among this inner-city oasis, Little Mercies is one of the most appealing watering holes. This is not because it looks overly ornate or ostentatious, but because on a hot day, when heat lines rise from the street and sweat patches threaten, the cool and simple interiors are just the casual vibe we are craving. It feels trendy without trying too hard – leaving room to focus on what really matters: the menu.
The cocktails seem tailor-made for the sun. Our first tipple, a Bellini – is a refreshing interpretation of the peach and prosecco favourite. In this case, the cocktail is pre-brewed with Victory Vodka, lacto-fermented peach, peach liqueur, bubbly and a less conventional undertone of hops. It’s light than the usual purée and prosecco affair, but still packs a nice fruity finish. The Passion Fruit Negroni is also less bitter than expected, made with the bar’s own flavoured vermouth alongside Victory Gin, Campari and passionberry. It’s a friendly alternative for those who are new to the cocktail, with a subtle syrupy sweetness that takes the edge off.
While we expect quality cocktails from Little Mercies, it’s the food that often separates good bars from great ones. In this case, the plates wouldn’t be out of place at a dedicated tapas restaurant. The gnudi is described to us like a doughball, but it’s so much better. These semolina and ricotta dumplings have the consistency of gnocchi but the flavours of a cheesy tortellini, the buttery dough offset by a verdant splash of celery and pistou (think basil pesto without the nuts).
Then comes the fried chicken. Coated in a sticky szechuan sauce and sprinkled with cress, this Asian-inspired plate packs the perfect amount of heat, not sickly like some glazes but balanced on a knife’s edge between sweet and sour. The most surprising dish, though, is an unassuming-sounding salt-baked beetroot, which seems an unlikely recommendation from the waiter. Serving up the tender root vegetable on a bed of smoked pink fir potatoes pulverised to silky mash, this dish is the perfect example of humble ingredients made spectacular.
It’s time for another round of cocktails, and this time we opt for something less familiar, the bamboo. While the original iteration was created in Japan with orange and angostura bitters, the bar’s strawberry interpretation gives the concoction an uplifting summer twist using strawberry wine, sherry, rosé vermouth, timur berry and pink peppercorn. For those who are willing to shake up a more familiar classic, the Snickers Old Fashioned is definite must-try. Each sip carries notes of salted caramel, peanut butter and cacao nibs, giving hints of the chocolate bar taste whilst still letting our old friend Jack Daniels take the floor.
There are also a range of other classics on offer, from a blood orange take on the margarita to a pink mojito, but we are content to lift our spirits with a few more plates. The Green Beans, Peas, Tahini, Harissa beans offer up a nice serving of local seasonal produce with a Middle Eastern flare, but they are a sidekick to the beef short rib, which comes rare atop hot pink pomegranate cabbage and a moreish potato flatbread. This is cooking that continually surprises, packing layers of punchy flavours in fittingly vibrant colours.
We finish with the bar’s single dessert offering, a Tiramisu Ice Cream Sando. This pudding delivers all the elements of the classic dessert, but with the added fun of being allowed to devour it with your hands. Any dignity I held up to this point now lost, it seems a fitting way to introduce myself to the local scene (and a fitting time to leave).
Little Mercies is a strangely apt name for a place that, in spite of the past year, is here to provide an hour or two of boozy bliss. The team are just the right amount of chatty, the drinks go down easily and the food – if you’ll pardon the pun – raises the bar.
Photos: Azhul Mohamed
To book a table at Little Mercies, 20 Broadway Parade London N8 9DE, call or visit their website here.