If you can muscle your way in, Dalston based seafood selectors, Mussel Men, provide the ideal setting for winding down over a hulking bowl of steaming shellfish and an expertly concocted cocktail. Another London pop-up gone permanent, the ever-bustling hotspot on Kingsland Road dishes up just the right amount of sophistication in an entirely casual setting.
The joint isn’t big: imagine a low-lit Brooklyn dive bar spruced up with heavy timber, exposed brickwork, fishing nets and aquatically themed bric-a-brac. The whimsical nautical setting and chirpy stripe-clad servers juxtapose a far more serious offering when it comes to the menu, however.
Arriving early to ensure we blagged a spot in their stony al fresco courtyard, we were greeted immediately by a smiley hostess who was more than happy to serve up some personal recommendations. Studying the selection intently, I noticed subtle nods to Scotland perforating the menu – One O’clock gun, haggis, and even Buckfast make the cut – though South-of-the-borderers can be forgiven for failing to recognise the homage.
Aiming to explore as much of the ocean as we could feasibly consume, we opted for plump Scottish langoustines, scallops and an Asian soft-shell crab salad to start. The langoustines were a little slighter than expected – but the refined seasoning and minimal garnishing ensured the creatures took centre stage. Three expertly seared scallops arrived with a silky cauliflower puree, crumbles of rich, spicy haggis and charred asparagus spears.
The soft shell crab was the biggest hit at the table, however, and unlike our other choices, the £9 starter was anything but dainty and delicate. Bursting with lemongrass, a warm carrot salad was the ideal bed for a crispy heap of soft shell crab.
And of course there were mussels. Each portion is sizeable and more than enough for two. Instinctively the panic set in when it came to selecting our broth base for the evening, but after a certain amount of diplomatic dispute – and gentle guidance from our server – we opted for the buerre blanc, which left us little to complain about. The mussel flavours rotate with the seasonal menu, ranging from classics like Mediterranean tomato and marinière to the more eclectic Thai green curry.
Futile to denial when it comes to chocolate, a necessary brownie rounded of the evening. Despite boasting a dark and bitter richness, it was a little on the dry side – I prefer brownies teetering on the edge of uncooked. But in terms of presentation it encompassed the same precision and refinement seen in all our dishes that evening.
Real talk: don’t come here for a three-course nosh-up if you’re on a budget, the prices skirt on the upper end of the immediate area’s grub offerings. You don’t need to go the whole hog when ordering, however – a portion of moules-frites coupled with a cocktail or craft brew makes for a swift and solid nibble any time of day.
Seafood is one specialty that leaves zero room for error – it’s no secret that it needs to be prepared flawlessly every time, with each ingredient serving an essential purpose. Mussel Men embraces this philosophy with strapping arms. Expect simple, perfectly cooked fare, elegant presentation and a adaptive showcase of some of our country’s finest ingredients. I look forward to watching these Mussel Men go from strength to strength.
584 Kingsland Rd, London E8 4AH