the Clove Club
Shoreditch Town Hall
380 Old Street, London
Tel. 020 7729 6496
Food type: Modern British
Nearest tube: Old Street
Website: the Clove Club
At my recent lunch at Bonhams with Kang, he mentioned about his recent meal at Clove Club and how the kitchen were doing some amazing things. He is of course a very knowledgeable and well-travelled foodie, so when he speaks you have to listen. Booking a table here is tricky, given its pre-paid ticketing system. Depending on what time you choose to dine, you may have to pay up front for your table – up to £95 pp for the prime dining hours. As I was on my annual leave, we decided to pop in for a mid-week lunch and opting for an early 12pm table, meant that we did not have to pay anything up front.
The restaurant is located in Shoreditch Town Hall. As you walk in, you are greeted by various charcuteries being cured. There is a small bar area where you can opt for bar snacks or even their tasting menu as well as the main dining room featuring an open kitchen. The dining room has a very relaxed feel to it with wooden floors, an absence of table cloths and soft blue cushioned seats. For lunch, there is a no frills a la carte menu (items individually priced, an average 3 course meal will cost £35, with canapés costing extra) as well as two tasting menus of different lengths (£65 for 5 courses, £95 for 9 courses). We naturally went for the extended tasting menu.
As is the trend nowadays, the opening flourish of canapés are called ‘snacks’. What happened to amuse bouche? Or are we trying so hard to be not fine dining we are wiling to call a frozen melon gazpacho a snack? I mean the thing comes in a little bowl. When I think of snacks, I think of finger food. Things I can pick up with my fingers. Not a bowl of frozen ice. The melon gazpacho had a lovely savoury note to with a rich, toasty note coming from an almond cream. A perfect start for a hot summer’s day. Next was a crab tartlet with thin crisp pastry, filled with picked crab meat and a ‘crab hollandaise’. This was dusted with a little devilled spices to give the morsel a little bite. Another very enjoyable mouthful. My favourite canapé (oh wait, SNACK) was a haggis doughnut – hot, rich, gamey with a dusting of cider vinegar powder to cut through the richness. Finally, the last bite was the chef’s signature fried chicken. The deboned chicken had been coated in buttermilk and what I would guess is tapioca to give it an extra crunchy texture. This really is an awesome bar snack and I could envision myself sitting at the bar and knocking down a dozen of these with a couple of cold beers.
The meal now officially began with the flame grilled mackerel – the mackerel had been cured beforehand and bar the flame grilling was served raw. The cure helped boost the umami notes of the mackerel and the combination with mustard and cucumber perhaps a nod to Brett Graham’s mackerel dish at Ledbury where the chef here had worked at previously. A great opener and got us wanting more which is always a good sign.
Next was another of the chef’s signature – scallops served raw with an Australian black truffle sauce and scallop jelly. There was also a little touch of clementine to help balance out the earthy flavours on the plate although this was very subtle. This was fine, but having eaten Mikael’s raw scallop dish at Hedone where the scallops were palpably fresh (so much so they were still twitching on the plate), the step down in quality of ingredients was noticeable.
We followed with a summer broth, made with a combination of 5 herbs although my server was not able to name all of them. From what I gathered, chervil and parsley were the two prominent ones with a background note of tarragon to add a hint of aniseed to the broth. At the bottom were a couple of mussels to add interest to the dish. The broth had a good depth of flavour, with good complexity from the variety of herbs.
At this point, bread was offered – a single loaf of sourdough where the customer got to choose the whether they wanted the crusty ends or the ‘middly bit’ as my server would describe it. Now I rarely talk about bread, but here the bread was actually spectacular and aside from the bread served at Hedone, this has to be one of the best breads in London. The butter, I was told, was made from a culture nixed from Noma.
Our meal now continued with pollock with buttered cabbage and a cabbage and olive puree. Pollock is one of the least interesting fish but the specimen served here was of outstanding quality, with the fish having a beautiful ‘mother of pearl’ sheen to it. It had been gently cooked over a hazel wood grill giving it a slight hint of smokiness. There was a little lemon puree on top of the fish which provided relief for the rich flavours on the plate. This was the stand-out dish of the meal.
Next, we had crispy pork belly on a pancake made from buckwheat and pig’s blood alongside some pickled onions to provide acidity to cut through the richness of the other elements. The dish was dusted with some devilled spices to give it a little kick. The idea was that you would wrap the elements up with the pancake and pop it into your mouth much like you would with a crispy duck pancake. For me, the execution was a little off – the skin of the pork was not as crispy as one hoped. I make pork belly at home using a similar method (slow cooking, pressing and then cooking it on the skin) and feel that the skin could have had a couple more minutes on the pan. At least the meat was moist but for me the whole point of pork belly is the crispy skin.
One of the dishes I was hoping would be served, the duck in 3 servings, was not on the menu. However, one of the elements of that course – the duck consommé, was retained for our tasting menu. Our waiter first brings to us a small swig of 100 year old madeira and would subsequently add the duck consommé which would poured from a brandy bottle. The consommé had great depth of flavour with complexity coming from the addition of the madeira. There was however one slight problem – the consommé had not been clarified properly and was cloudy with specks of white protein floating around. This is not a problem with the taste, but it was a shame with the execution.
The final savoury course was a trio of lamb – rolled saddle, leg and a crispy shoulder fritter with bagna cauda, artichokes and a lamb jus. The lamb was of very high quality with excellent flavour and cooked perfectly. The use of the bagna cauda and como pepper gave it a mediterranean feel and the thin jus helped to tie all the elements together. Loved the fact that the chef kept the lamb fat on, which once crisped up from the roasting process, was a joy to eat.
Desserts were a less interesting affair for us. First was apricot sorbet on a honey cake which was a little dry. The sorbet was well made and the bee pollen added a subtle floral note to the dish. The overall presentation of the dish reminded me of the cinnamon and strawberry/ raspberry dessert at Hedone. Finally, we finished on champagne jelly and berries. I was hoping that despite its title, it would be a bit more than just jelly and fruit and while the jelly was very well made, it was essentially that.
Overall, we enjoyed our meal at the Clove Club. Despite some of the technical flaws, the meal itself had plenty of highlights and in particular, the pollock was simply outstanding. This was a meal of diminishing returns, starting off very strongly with great bites and appetisers but petering out to the end with desserts which was less interesting. Its position on the World’s 50 Best list is outright baffling (they are no. 26 in the recent list) but this is a fault of the way the list conducts its ‘research’ rather than the fault of the restaurant itself. I think Michelin’s assessment of 1 star is right on the money.