Travelling to London once a month for work made me realise I have a dozen opportunities to experience the exciting London food scene. This month I booked a table at The Clove Club: 26th best restaurant in the world according to the World’s 50 Best, holding one Michelin star and one of the UK’s best restaurants.
Sleepless in Shoreditch
I booked my table at The Clove Club on a late night when my taste-buds decided to trade sleep for the excitement of new culinary adventures. Realising most of my friends would either be unavailable at lunchtime or would be unwilling to spend £150 on a lunch, I cancelled my table for two and decided to go alone, something I’ve started to enjoy a lot lately.
I arrived in hip Shoreditch after a sleepless night and an early flight from Bucharest to London. Even though my palate was a little sleepy, I dedicated all my senses to the meal that was going to keep me busy for over three hours.
My table with a view
I was lucky to have a seat at a table with a view of the tiny kitchen where the staff, including Isaac McHale himself, were preparing lunch for a full service. The atmosphere is relaxed and welcoming, the staff attentive, the food: exceptional. No white tablecloths, no fabric coated armchairs, no tiring service, no rows of cutlery that make you uncomfortable. No over-plated dishes, no lists of ingredients that go onto three lines. Everything is simple and elegant, without pompous flourishes, in a truly British fashion.
Eyes wide open
I did not resist choosing any less than the full tasting menu, a symphony of nine beautiful courses that seem to never end, that kept me awake despite my previous night’s lack of sleep.
Prologue: The snacks
Minutes after I arrived, a green, fluffy pike roe cracker with green matcha powder landed on my table, a snack that awoke a multitude of memories: the cracker reminded me of my beloved Scotland, the roe, of my childhood’s family dinners, the matcha of my usual sleepy mornings. Then came some haggis, covered in a perfectly spherical deep fried bun, and the famous buttermilk fried chicken with pine salt that I have been studying the recipe of in my recently acquired book, The London Cookbook.
Act I: Fish, pigeon, crab and more
The next dish: hay smoked Wiltshire trout, toasted almonds, brown butter and (another offer I could not resist) Petrossian caviar. The lunch continued with a rich dish of Turkish morels stuffed with gamey pigeon sausage, parsley puree and sea snails, a unique and utterly exciting combination. The spider crab Partan Bree – a reinterpreted Scottish crab bisque, arrived elegantly in the shell of the crab. Then came a dish that surprised me through its simplicity: hazelwood grilled Pollock, winter herb broth, broccoli and kale, all sprinkled with mustard seed oil, which brought a sweet, tangy and spicy element to the flavour palate.
Act II: The meat
The 100 day old Lincolnshire chicken ballotine with parsley root puree, liquorice and freshly ground black truffles was probably the highlight of my meal. The flavours, textures, acidity and sweetness of the dish made it truly unique, even more so for such a simple protein that is chicken. The lunch went on with a slice of aged sirloin of Angus beef with wild garlic, bay milk and crisp potato, on top of which the waitress sprinkled bone marrow sauce.
Act III: For those with a sweet tooth
After the beef came one of the best desserts I have ever had: a layer of lemon curd on top of which sat some homemade Kampot pepper ice-cream, all topped with a zingy Amalfi lemon mousse. Refreshing, tangy, a perfect palate cleanser and taste-bud delighter. After the cool citrusy refreshment, a slice of their homemade apple tart Tatin cooked to perfection, served with prune kernel oil and crème fraiche arrived on my table. Finally, the friendly waitress served me some barley cake, salted caramel chocolate and a digestive bon-bon.
As I finished the lunch, Chase, the head chef and the team were already preparing the various dishes for the dinner service. I visited their counters, walked on the same kitchen floors as some of the most talented restaurant teams in the world, and looked at the level of perfection with which they sliced the perfectly filleted fish. I saw the full box of morels ready to be filled with delicious pigeon, the vegetables waiting to give their life for a memorable meal.
I was lucky enough to meet one of the world’s greatest chefs. Isaac McHale is both chef and (one of the three) owner(s) of The Clove Club. Scotland born, he started working with food during his teenage years, as a fishmonger. He gained experience in top restaurants like Noma, Eleven Madison Club and The Ledbury, all, Michelin star restaurants and part of the World’s 50 Best. Friendly and approachable, he asked me what my favourite dish was, and when I replied ‘the kitchen’ instead of ‘the chicken’ I realised that my sleepless night and a then lazy and satisfied stomach stopped me from being able to articulate all the questions I had wanted to ask Isaac. I left. I truly, really needed some sleep, but enjoyed every minute of the three hours spent at The Clove Club.
Until next time,