Monday, 30 December 2013

The Clove Club - London

You may have noticed I recently spent some time in Edinburgh, basically eating every bloody thing I could lay my hands on. This unrepentant, gluttonous bout of restaurant debauchery, all in the dubious honour of my 40th birthday, almost broke me. Honestly, I didn’t think it was possible for me to experience, but this ridiculously indulgent, self-inflicted, surfeit of fine food and wine left me dazed, bloated, craving any form of salad and with the nagging feeling that if I even glimpsed another tasting menu I’d throw myself to the floor and start having a tantrum.

At this, my lowest point, I flew back to London where a now, distinctly unwanted, dinner reservation at The Clove Club awaited. Seriously, I’d just had enough; I didn’t fancy it at all, despite wanting to eat there for some time. At the appointed hour of doom I dutifully dragged my sorry ass over to Shoreditch, and all credit to the restaurant, I’m happy to say this jaded, overindulged, miserable old f*cker had a really cracking meal.

The restaurant itself is located in the old Shoreditch town hall, which makes for a rather grand entrance. I headed straight into the packed, dimly lit bar and immediately felt better. These things are hard to define sometimes, but for me the room had a good vibe. Led to my table in the dining room, out back, and I perked up even more. There’s something of a St John’ish feel to the rather austere looking room, with an open kitchen at one end, bare wooden tables, battered white walls and moody lighting. I loved it. Seriously, if I had my own restaurant I’d like to imagine it would look just like this. It was packed out, and as with the bar next door there was a nice buzz about it, which was a welcome antidote to some of the hushed fine dining I’d just recently experienced in Edinburgh.

There is only one choice in the restaurant, a set menu at £47. Fair enough.
I’d eaten the buttermilk fried chicken & pine salt before at their sister restaurant, Upstairs at The Ten Bells, so knew what to expect and also knew not to tuck into the bed of pine branches (so tempting). What to say, it’s absolutely delicious and easy to see why it’s become such a signature dish. 
Radishes, black sesame and gochuchang, a fermented Korean condiment made from red chilli, glutinous rice and soybeans, followed. An interesting take on the classic radishes with salt and butter, the fiery, buttery texture of the gochuchang and the nuttiness of the sesame seeds worked really well. 
Wood pigeon sausage & greengage ketchup was bloody stunning. My only complaint would be the microscopic dimensions of the measly frigging little taster piece I was presented with. I’m looking at the menu right now and it definitely says ‘sausages’ not ‘sawn off sausage nub’. Oh well, still, it was very nice and definitely left me wanting more…bastards.
Spartanly presented, Scottish blood pudding, celeriac and red william pear was probably my least favourite of the dishes I ate. The flavour combination of the black pudding, pear and celeriac was lovely but I think I’ve been a little spoilt by Trealy Farm’s rather excellent boudin noir. Every other black pudding I’ve tried just doesn’t come close in flavour or texture, including this.
The next dish arrived, BBQ squid, tarragon and the intriguingly named, green meat radishes (I asked and disappointingly it’s just that the flesh is green…oh).  The squid was perfectly cooked, a feat which seems to elude a fair few restaurants. The unusual tarragon and radish combination worked well. Nothing to blow my socks off, just a good solid plate of food.
Aged featherblade of beef, Jerusalem artichoke and horseradish, however was absolutely bloody awesome. The meat was so ridiculously sticky, tender and rich. This is my idea of a perfect plate of wintery grub, I sat there transfixed, a big grin on my face as I shovelled forkful after forkful it into my mouth, enjoying every last bit and feeling genuinely disappointed when there was nothing left but a plate scraped bare.
Luckily for me the next course was also something of a standout. A bowl of Amalfi lemonade & black pepper ice cream was just incredible. Ridiculously soft, warm and mousse like on top with a contrasting cooler temperature deeper down and an almost effervescent, sherbet tingle on the tongue. Unbelievable. I bloody loved this. 
Warm quince, vanilla cream and gingerbread was nice enough. Really, what’s not to like about that combination of flavours? Although I found the gingerbread to be a little tough perhaps; I couldn’t cut through it with my spoon without sending it skidding across the plate. So rather than end up with it in my lap and utilising the years I spent in that posh finishing school, I picked it up and got stuck in.
Coffee came with an addition. A bar of The Clove Club’s own chocolate flavoured with almond. I thought this was a really nice and unusal touch.

But not quite as good as the final flourish. A lurid green pill, sitting atop a note collectively praising Fernet Branca (the Italian medicinal tasting, herbal drink), Fergus Henderson and his St John restaurant. There followed a recipe for a Dr Henderson cocktail, (Named after Fergus’s Father, a combination of crème de menthe and Fernet, it’s something of an acquired taste). 

Popping the pill into my mouth, it broke and I could taste the unmistakable flavour of the aforementioned cocktail flooding across my tongue, lovely.
That I enjoyed my meal at The Clove Club so much, despite arriving with an unusually negative mindset of not really wanting to eat at another restaurant, just goes to show how good it actually is.

The restaurant itself is lovely both in atmosphere and design. The service was spot on and the food itself was incredibly inventive, fun and interesting as well as beautifully cooked. Yeah, a couple of the dishes were a bit more workmanlike than jaw droppingly impressive but the aged featherblade of beef and the Amalfi lemondade and black pepper ice cream were so astoundingly impressive, they’re kind of a hard act to follow.

The Clove Club, yeah, loved it.

The Clove Club
Shoreditch Town Hall
380 Old Street

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