Mercado Central restaurant review
Edition’s Phoebe Harper heads to Green Street for an evening immersed in the flavours of northern Spain
First, let’s get things straight. Mercado Central is not a tapas restaurant. Neither is it a Spanish restaurant.
Rather, this is a British restaurant inspired by the myriad flavours and delicacies of Spain, sourcing seasonal ingredients with an emphasis on Galician and Basque heritage. Its whole ethos is fantastic produce done simply, but well.
Having frequently passed by the scenic listed townhouse that houses Mercado, I had mistakenly assumed it to be a place of fine dining, attracting a higher end of clientele that perhaps strayed slightly towards the pretentious.
But immediately, a warm welcome and the informal dining style put me at ease. This is not a place of intimidation, but unbridled appreciation.
The restaurant is loud, candle-lit and sophisticated – a place you might walk past and feel a jolt of FOMO for not being inside.
The buzz is infectious; our view combines the rain-dappled cobblestones of Green Street with the beautiful drama of the open kitchen in front.
ON THE MENU
Short and simple, the menu is rich with Spanish delicacies.
There are the Iberico pork cheeks from the acorn-fed pigs that Mark Hughes – chef and one of the four owners – tells me he has personally met in Salamanca, and Rubia Gallega Beef from a herd that roams freely on the lush pastures of Northern Spain.
These quality ingredients rub shoulders with a bounty of British produce, including eggs from the ‘incomparable’ Arlington White chickens that are used for tortilla, and wild Cornish fish that is a staple of the in-house fish counter.
Rather than making my own menu decisions, I am carried happily along on a tide of recommendations from a fleet of well-trained and personable staff, including Mark who I see personally visit each table in-between kitchen duties.
To start, we are presented with a vibrant smorgasbord of sharing plates.
The croquetas del día are sumptuous orbs of beef and oaky Manchego cheese perched on a generous splodge of alioli, while my partner savours the thick slices of beef tomato served with anchovies.
Gambas al ajillo have us licking our fingers greedily, while enjoying mouthfuls of potatoes in mojo rojo sauce which are served alongside a crispy tentacle of Galician octopus finished on the Basque charcoal grill.
The piece de resistance comes from the specials board: an arroz negro which has made a long-awaited return to the menu and proves to be a mouthwatering concoction of squid ink, king prawns, cuttle fish and monkfish.
Amateur oenophiles, we discard our puritan tendencies of restricting ourselves to just one wine and sample a rainbow of grapes from the extensive wine list.
All have been chosen by Marco, the in-house expert, as we work our way through glasses of the rich Toledo red from Altos de la Finca – the perfect accompaniment for beef – to a delicious white Rioja from Valencisco Blanco and on to a pale Alta Pavina Rose.
As our feasting draws to a close and our myriad plates are sadly cleared, he presents us with a palette cleanser of apple and clove sorbet accompanied with a glass of the Dulce de Enero – an ice wine made from grapes only harvested after the sun has set and the frost takes hold.
As we make our way back out into the street on a cold winter’s night, I can imagine how those grapes must feel.
Aside from the mouthwatering array of tastes and flavours encompassed within its menu, if you’re passionate about produce sourced from small-scale operations that prioritise good practices centred on sustainability and high welfare, then Mercado is a no-brainer.
While the price range makes this a fantastic spot for special occasions, the experience that you get in return is undeniably worth it.