Muddy goes mad in the Med
Okay, you got me - it's the Barbican in Plymouth but The Mad Merchant's quirky mix of authentic Turkish dishes and yup, Devon cream teas are the next best thing.
I’ve wanted to come to The Mad Merchant Coffee House since I popped in for a gin at Barbican Botanics – basically the two venues are side-by side and although they have different doorways out front, they share the same small high-walled garden.
BB serves up gin flights and cocktails on one side and The Mad Merchant dishes up delicious all day brekkies and brunches on the other. Quite an intoxicating double – in Muddy’s book anyway.
We’re in Plymouth’s Barbican – the city’s cool indie district, rammed with art galleries, gift shops and eateries, right next to Sutton harbour marina. It’s always buzzing and in the unlikely event you get bored here, you can catch a ferry for a spot of ocean sight seeing.
Souks in the city (sorry – couldn’t resist!). Imagine a traditional ye-olde English cafe out front, but head out back and – surprise! – it’s all Kilim rugs, low seats, shisha pipes and copper Cezve – which, as of course you know, is an authentic Turkish coffee pot.
The waitress told me the owners are Turkish and own Kapadokya restaurant opposite where there do a huge range of authentic meat, fish and vegan dishes – and host belly dancing nights.
Where things get a little quirky are all the traditional English touches – teapots filled with flowers, a penny farthing logo in your coffee cup, and Devon cream teas on the menu.
And the setting – a 16th century merchant’s house with a four-hundred year old spiral staircase. You wouldn’t think it works but it just does.
SCOFF AND QUAFF
Mr Muddy and I are feeling a bit windswept having spent the morning on nearby Drake’s Island in Plymouth Sound (history buffs and nature lovers you should go, the two and half hour tour is fascinating stuff) so we kick off with some much-needed rocket fuel. Hello Turkish coffee – with a sprinkle of sugar to sweeten and a glass of water on the side.
Like I say the menu is a real mix of spicy and non-spicy with brunches and light dishes, including breakfast brioche buns, full English and full Turkish breakfast (which he orders), along with cream teas and homemade cakes.
I fancy something tapasy, so opt for vine leaves, and thinking that might be a bit meagre for a healthy appetite like mine – I’m no slacker! – dips with olives and pitta.
The three plates arrive – oops, we may have over-ordered – but who cares, it all looks – and is – so fresh and tasty.
The dips are obviously home-made. I’ve not tasted anything this good since I last ate round my Israeli friend’s house – and he’s an amazing cook. We tuck into a tomatoey couscous, baba ganoush, a thick creamy humous and a cheeky chilli-flavoured humous which catches me in the back of the throat just as the waitress comes to ask me how everything is.
The only odd note was the pats of butter and sour dough bread – not strictly in keeping but presumably to please British palates.
It felt very laidback and the low tables and seats are perfect for little legs. The small garden, is walled right around and most kids would find it fascinating.
OUT AND ABOUT
Plymouth Gin, the UK’s oldest distillery, is along the road if you fancy a gin tour. Or you could just decamp to a booth across the garden and tuck into BB’s gin flight – they stock over 100 gins.
Plus, all the delights of the Barbican – little boutiques, art galleries – 45 Southside is brilliant for affordable local Devon and Cornish art. And excitingly a new place to buy fresh fish, something that’s been lacking here called The Old Fish Market also on Southside Street.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: a dose of the Mediterranean, cream tea with mum; a laidback lunch and Prosecco with pals; some who like it hot and some who like it not so hot – they cater for all tastes plus vegans and veggies.
Not for: just booze (it’s not a bar, so you have to order food too); days when it’s horizontal rain, although there is some indoor space upstairs; oldies ( not me obvs) might find the low seats a tad challenging *ooh, me knees*.
The damage: £38 for one coffee, a soft drink, my Prosecco, and our three dishes. Merhaba to that.
The Mad Merchant Coffee House, 37 New St, Plymouth PL1 2NE.