Train stations in London aren't exactly known for their food. It's mostly a grab and go with most passengers either rushing for trains or milling around the train timetable display. Pasty, sandwich & baguette chains and fast food chains dominate the station lobby. It's literally a copy and paste across all major London train stations.
If my memory serves me right, Liverpool Street station is the only train station in London to have a decent restaurant (Ponte obviously isn't one of them) and a Japanese one at that. Mushi Mushi is packed during lunch hour, its customers coming from the offices in the vicinity.
Unlike Mushi Mushi, the recently opened Merchant of Bishopgate Freehouse and Kitchen occupies the shop space right opposite Boots at Liverpool Street station. While it offers main dishes at around £10 each, steak dishes at £17 and salads at £8.50, its mainstay is its tapas styled menu in a nod to the quick pace its customers have adopted.
These aptly named "Grazer" dishes are categorised broadly under hot and cold sections with the likes of sausages, battered fish and chicken wings in the former and pork scratchings, pie wedges and cheese scones with salmon in the latter.
At either £4 each or three for a tenner, the choice is obvious. We were looking for a light bite and opted for three hot grazers. They arrived quite soon after, obviously a case of being kept warm under a strong spotlight at the kitchen counter. Even then, all three dishes were barely lukewarm so I concluded that by "hot", they merely mean that heat is required to cook the dishes in the first place.
Credit given to Merchant of Bishopgate, the portions were larger than expected. They can easily fill the stomach of two light eaters. The battered fish with gourmet chips being the most substantial. I'm not sure whether battered fish is meant to be served bite size as the satisfaction of sinking one's teeth into them is greatly reduced by the virtue of their sizes. Though the chips were lightly crisp, half of the chippies in London are in fact offering gourmet chips if those are indeed that.
The mini baked cheese and onion potatoes tasted like mashed potato parcels. The onion was overpowered by the cheese, the mix was rather bland if not for the sea salt liberally sprinkled on its side salad. Despite that, the potato parcels tasted oddly satisfying. I'm a salt and carbo junkie, no questions about that.
After cleaning up the sticky wings, which were apparently glazed with Jack Daniel's, I'm convinced that alcohol and roasted wings should be consumed one after another, not together. I'm not sure how the wings were marinated but the glazing did it little justice. It was a better version of the fiasco I had at Banana Tree at St John's Street.
The Merchant of Bishopgate Freehouse and Kitchen, with its chic decor, ample seating space and a large bar area, looks set to be the focal point at Liverpool Street station. Location is king here, so long that the food is passable and priced affordably, people will come. For those waiting for a train and prefer not to hang around at MacDonald's, the Merchant beckons.
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