The best meal of the year and inexcusably overlooked by the Michelin Guide
I encountered a fellow travelling Brit with some interesting views on food during my recent jaunt around Jordan. Although he had a broad palate, this didn’t extend to Modernist cuisine, especially multi-course tasting menus. ‘Artsy fartsy’ ‘nouvelle cuisine’ wasn’t ‘proper food’ he contended. Like all articulate debaters secure in their well-reasoned positions, he wouldn’t brook any argument to the contrary. This unfortunate culinary blindness means he’ll never experience the pure joy of eating at The Clove Club, but that merely makes it a wee bit easier for the rest of us to get a table at this small-ish, cosy Shoreditch restaurant.
The Clove Club only has room for a few dozen covers, so booking ahead is essential. The bare dining room is surprisingly Spartan, but service was friendly, informative and efficient, as well as devilishly good-looking, although it was often hard to hear what they were saying above the lively chatter of the other diners.
An eight course tasting menu (including three amuse bouche) that changes frequently is available in the evenings. There is the option of extending this further to 13 courses with pre-booking, but at the cost of doubling the price from £50 to £100 per person. Vegetarians are accommodated for, much to the relief of The Flame Haired Squelchie. The vegetarian amuse bouche were almost more enticing than their meat-based counterparts. The Squelchie was very pleased with the tempura-like battered artichoke – the crisp, fluffy batter gave way to a buttery, roasted artichoke that melted in her mouth. She was also pleased by the odd-looking but marvellously sweet and globular slices of cucumber.
The Squelchie enjoyed the smokiness and hint of spice present in the aubergine caviar ‘sandwich’, but she was more taken with the radishes. The spicy sauce and peppery mayo complimented the crunchiness of the vegetables.
The meat-based amuse bouche started off with a moist and meaty chunk of fried chicken coated in a crisp, light, herby and oil-free batter that was a marvel to behold and eat.
The cod cream was served on an odd cracker that resembled an enlarged bran flake, but that didn’t detract from the delicate yet unctuous texture of the cream or its distinctively salty fishiness.
The wood pigeon sausage was remarkably beefy yet light and coarse, which only increased its resemblance to a seekh kebab. As enjoyable as the sausage was, it was nothing compared to the decadent, fatty, enjoyable greasiness of the lard on toast.
A hint of Japan arrived in the form of sea bream sashimi served with pickled celery and tangerine. The delicate citrus-like texture of the fish was complimented by the similar texture of the tangerine, but the excessive sharpness of the pickled celery was out of place and tended to overwhelm the rest of the dish.
Squelchie also encountered a hint of the sea in her next dish. Surprisingly delicate fennel bulbs were topped with seaweed, walnuts and crème fraiche which proved to be a scintillating combination of contrasting textures. The fishy texture and flavour of the seaweed didn’t overwhelm the other elements of the dish, especially the fennel, while a hint of dill added a herby touch.
The addition of raisins to the cobnuts and bitter leaf made this vegetarian dish resemble muesli. The Squelchie wasn’t impressed though. While she enjoyed the cobnuts, the bitter leaf was bland and the raisins added little so that this dish didn’t really hang together.
I couldn’t identify the thin, yet firm slices of bitter vegetable layered on top of a small heap of squid slices. Nevertheless, the bitterness proved to be a good compliment to the firm saltiness of the squid.
One of the few vegetarian dishes that was clearly a repurposed alternate version of a meat-based original was the cep mushroom with truffle slices and truffle puree - the meat version had John Dory instead of cep. Even so, both versions of the dish worked well. The delicately creamy cep was enhanced by the earthy and addictive puree, although the actual slices of truffle were surprisingly lacking in both aroma and taste. The meat version benefitted from the meaty and salty fillet of John Dory which tasted just as good with the earthy truffle puree, if not a little better.
I was not expecting to encounter kebabs on The Clove Club’s menu, but these reimagined versions couldn’t have been more different from typical Green Lanes fare. The vegetarian version consisted of dense and meaty mushrooms interleaved with delicate yet punchy fennel bulbs, all brushed with a tangy balsamic glaze.
This kebab course was definitely one where the meat version was superior though. Chicken with a crisp skin interleaved with a delicate yet meaty, smoky and fatty Parson’s nose (or a chicken’s arse end to you and me) and something decidedly and deliciously offaly was nothing short of remarkable. The combination of flavours and textures was truly sublime.
The meat courses only got better from here on out. Delicate strands of lightly caramelised skate had an extra layer of moreishness added by some capers, while the sharp and creamy cauliflower puree added a lip-pursing, lip-smacking finish.
Pork belly with anchovy emulsion, French beans, mint and a nutty garnish sounds like a ragbag collection of disparate ingredients, but if you’re thinking that then you clearly haven’t been paying attention. The tender and lightly fatty belly was viscerally satisfying when taken with the powerfully salty emulsion. The tenderness of the belly was offset not only by the crispness of the crackling, but also by the firm beans and the crunchy dusting of nuts. Finally, the mint acted as a very effective palate cleanser – much needed after such a powerfully bold combination of rich flavours.
I wasn’t fond of the charred chewiness of the artichoke skin, but the Squelchie loved it and thought it went well with the distinctly flavoured artichoke puree.
Leek and cheddar is a classic pie and mash combination, but here the reimagined pairing has been put to highly effective use along with truffle slices. The firm leek acted as a delivery mechanism for the other two ingredients – the thin cheddar sauce was surprisingly effective in releasing the earthiness of the truffle slices.
Duck with pumpkin slices, pumpkin puree and a balsamic reduction sounds rather intricate, but it’s not too far removed from duck a l’orange. The two forms of pumpkin provide a sweet, but not sickly sweet counterpart to the firm, juicy slab of mallard cooked rare.
The Squelchie got the same dish, but with the duck replaced with onions. Although this seems like a very lazy and hurried substitution to me, the Squelchie seemed content with the combination of sharpness and sweetness.
Although the Squelchie and I thought the savoury courses were done, the kitchen had a few more snack-sized treats up its sleeve. Delicate crisps and an extra skewer of onion and pumpkin for the Squelchie, while I got a miniature braised duck leg. As good as the first two were, they felt like left-overs. The braised duck leg, however, could easily work as part of a main course in its own right. The meat had an unctuous fattiness that was almost confit-like, but with a moist richness all its own.
Both the Squelchie and I enjoyed the goat’s mousse which managed to be light yet creamy at the same time, as well as the topping of berries which was very sweet. The Squelchie and I diverged when it come to the golden graham-style crackers though. The Squelchie felt they were tacked on, while I warmed to them and enjoyed their vague honey-like sweetness. If nothing else, I could use them instead of the spoon to scoop up the rest of this dessert.
The best dessert of the evening, and indeed one of the highlights of the entire evening, had to be the poached pear with a granita and oats. Although poached pears is now a dessert cliché, the sweet, sharp and fragrant pears here were so silky soft that they almost resembled a mousse. The crisp, hearty oats added a bit of stodge, while the refreshingly cool and herby granita cut through the richness of the pears like a knife through butter. Easily one of the best desserts of the year.
Although there were a few missteps during my meal at The Clove Club, these pale in comparison to the soaring triumphs. It’s easily one of the best meals I’ve had all year – The Clove Club is an essential, quintessential fine dining stop in London. If you have no desire to go then I pity your lack of taste and ambition.
Name: The Clove Club
Address: Shoreditch Town Hall, 380 Old Street, London EC1V 9LT
Phone: 020 7729 6496
Opening Hours: Lunch, Tuesday – Saturday noon-14:30 and Dinner, Monday-Saturday 18.00-22:00. Closed Sundays.
Total cost for one person including drinks: £100 approx.