Words: Adam Boatman
Rather than a gastro-bar, visiting Trading House feels more like dropping in to a Victorian gentleman traveller’s private collection.
The walls and floors are festooned with worldly plunder and maps of far flung places, cabinets full of curiosities haunt the corners and an astonishing array of stuffed creatures observe mournfully from the walls and high vaulted ceilings.
Averting my eyes from the ostentatious albino peacock staring me down, I push and prod my way way through the sea of people that encircle the elongated, island bar. I’m aiming for the warm, inviting lights of the restaurant at the far end of the room, enclosed by a mezzanine roof, one short edge of the bar and a set of black cast iron stairs.
I won’t pretend that The Trading House is a place for old or delicate ears. My Mum, for example, who has to sit with her back to the wall at the first sound of ambient noise, would have given up within the first few minutes. The live music fights against the revelries of post-work partiers for dominance, while the first-time Tinder daters have to lean even closer and work even harder to stand out from the rest of London’s singles market.
The bar, despite similarities to a besieged fortress, works quickly. Within minutes I’m sipping my way through most of a perfectly balanced and properly alcoholic Manhattan; while my partner indulges in a sweet Silk Road (gin, elderflower, pineapple, vanilla, fennel and nutmeg) that tastes like the barman had just carried out a daring raid on an East India Trading Company warehouse.
Though the building and the bar menu, not so subtly, point to the past, the food menu seems to have no particular direction. Hanging kebabs perhaps speak to dodgy dealings with the Ottomans, or smoked haddock fondue to a life spent at sea in exploration, but generally the menu is indistinguishable from any other gastro pub, a single set menu for the nation. Prawns, camembert, hummus, cold cuts, burgers, steaks, fish and chips, pies and of course a single curry.
We begin with the haddock and camembert. The camembert had a crispy bacon and onion lid that peeled off to reveal a decadent gooey interior. The slight smokiness afforded by the bacon elevates what is otherwise simply a tasty baked camembert. My haddock fondue is something I hadn’t had before; whether I’d have it again is uncertain. It tastes powerfully and deliciously of the sea and is crowned by a well poached egg balanced precariously on a delicate herb crust, like a polar bear struggling on thin autumn ice. But I have an issue with the clash between liquid yolk and a viscous, but definitely liquid, fish sauce. Losing myself in the taste is hard when you keep coming back to the unsettling textures.
Working slowly through the first course, we enjoy the live music and the bottle of sauvignon blanc that had replaced the now sadly depleted cocktails. The atmosphere, though loud, was cosy; almost thick enough to swaddle yourself in. In the dim glow of the restaurant I can still see the assortment of ‘trophies’ that appeared to be stuck half emerging from the wall. To my right, a hare’s head. A hare’s head with its signature lit face, ears wildly askew, eyes staring at odd angles towards nothing, as though in its moment of death it saw the centre of life itself and realised how pointlessly mundane it all was.
I’m brought back to reality by our fantastic waiter, who was in the middle of suggesting that at least one of us opt for their ‘famous’ hanging kebabs. Famous in what circles I’m not quite sure, but we thought it was worth a try. My girlfriend’s hanging lamb kofta came in elongated balls, skewered and suspended, next to a plate full of ‘properly seasoned chips’ (slightly bizarre wording for a menu, but a true enough claim). The tasty morsels of lamb meat and herbs were reminiscent of multiple childhood holidays spent in Dalian, sitting by the river listening to painfully bad Turkish jazz. Unfortunately however, the sauce that came with them reminded me of a knock off version of Nando’s. One of the best thing about Turkish food is the indulgent dips and in my opinion peri-peri had no place at all on that plate.
I went more traditional pub grub for my main, deciding that a steak and ale pie was always a good measure of a place. A good pie shows care; or in some cases that it was dragged out of the freezer, defrosted in a microwave and finished in the oven, as use to happen at the pub I worked in as a teenager. This particular pie sat on the fence. It was undeniably tasty, with a rich, jammy centre, generous chunks of beef and a side helping of fluffy mash. The problem was the crust, which just felt a little lacklustre; a little flaccid for a pie that packed so much flavour. Would I order it again? Absolutely. £11.95 is surprisingly little for such decadent home comfort.
The live music ended and a DJ side stepped his way to the booth. The vibe hadn’t dimmed much and if anything the bar was slightly busier than when we started, even though the restaurant was mostly empty. We had been happily sat for two hours, and it was only when it became clear that the DJ hat yet to master the fine art of mixing that we started to wonder if it was time to go. However, before we could trundle ourselves out into the night air however, we had dessert to come.
In keeping with the theme, it was another gastro classic. Baked cookie dough with vanilla ice cream. Which essentially was a puffed up, over-baked, cookie in a cast-iron pot. To be honest though, I don’t really know what I expected from baked cookie dough other than a cookie. The ice cream on top was creamy and opulent, but it was also the only moisture on a dish that felt like it had been deliberately dehydrated. If I order cookie dough I want it to be soft and sticky, reminiscent of a childhood spent scraping bowls. So next time maybe semi-baked?
The Trading House is a vibrant bar, and a surprisingly interesting oasis in the desert of ingenuity that is Bank on a Friday night; with live music, a bustling atmosphere, fantastic drinks and wonderful staff. However, it’s restaurant has some issues; it’s portions are generous, but in my opinion a little generic and unloved. If I were to give any advice it would be this. Hammer home the theme. There is a cocktail list reminiscent of Panamas and elephant rifles. There is an albino peacock! I feel they could do a little better than hanging kebabs a la peri-peri as their ‘bit of exotic’.