Le Mercury, in case you hadn't guessed, is a French bistro on prime real estate Upper Street, right between Angel and Highbury stations. Spread over three floors, it seems to be a bit of an Islington stalwart as every table was taken (and we visited on a Wednesday night) and the atmosphere was buzzing. Downstairs is dark and romantic with candlelit tables for two, and potted plants dotted on every available surface. The two floors upstairs are dedicated for bigger tables - we were on the top floor and as a party of 14, the smallest of the three in the room that night.
One of the main things to shout about Le Mercury is the price. I kicked off with a medium glass of house red for £3.95 - quite possibly the cheapest I've ever had in London. And there's an even bigger surprise when it comes to the food. All very much French inspired, there's a choice of around 10 or so starters, and the same for mains, all at almost unheard prices of £4.95 and £9.95 respectively. The day's specials may cost a little more and sides such as fries, seasonal vegetables or a salad are £1.95 each.
I went for the carpaccio of beef to start - thinly sliced raw meat with a caper & pepper relish and a rocket and parmesan salad. It was a good choice and a great portion size. Only niggle was that it was a little under seasoned and salt/pepper shakers do nothing to solve this - where are the nice big grinders when you need them? To follow I had crispy skinned seabass fillet with crushed new potatoes and a mint pesto. The flavours in this were a lot stronger and the dish was better seasoned, so this was polished off very quickly.
Service is relatively attentive but slow coming and it wasn't on form last night. The birthday boy's food never came, with the waiting staff giving us mixed messages before the manager told us they'd run out...five minutes into our main courses. He was given a replacement meal on the house (which came after the rest of the table had finished) and chose raclette - a typical Alpine treat of of cheese, potatoes and cornichons. They also gave him a complimentary espresso martini and a round of sambuca (that I made everyone flame) as an apology - so at least they're conscientious and conciliatory in their errors.
In short, Le Mercury is a good little place for cheap dining (which is ever hard to come by in London) and definitely worth a try. The food is good, service is average but who cares when you're catching up with pals? It gets a three out of five this time - although I might give its sister Le Mercury (deuxieme) - a few blocks down - a go next time and see if the slicker sibling's a better alternative.