Wednesday, October 18, 2023

The Clove Club (London, United Kingdom)

The Clove Club Restaurant
Shoreditch Town Hall, 380 Old St, London EC1V 9LT, United Kingdom
+44 20 7729 6496
Wed 10/18/2023, 07:50p-10:50p

The Clove Club Entrance

My final meal in England took place at The Clove Club, a rather hip-seeming, contemporary British cuisine spot that I'd been reading good things about. Opened back in 2013 and tracing its roots to a pop-up, the restaurant is situated in Shoreditch Town Hall, a Grade II listed building completed in 1866, and is helmed by Chef Patron Isaac McHale, a native of Scotland.

About the Chef: McHale was born in July 1980 in Orkney, but spent most of his childhood in Glasgow. He got interested in food early on after tasting a pakora for the first time, and subsequently taught himself Indian cookery. When he was 14, he began working for a local fishmonger, during which time he looked forward to taking home and preparing product that couldn't be sold. This then led to an after-school job at the well-regarded Stravaigin, and following a year at university studying food chemistry, McHale cooked at Glasgow eateries Air Organic, Rococo, and Arthouse hotel. He then relocated to Australia and spent 11 months at Mark Best's Marque in Sydney before moving to London in 2004, at age 23. He landed a gig at Tom Aikens' eponymous restaurant in Chelsea, where he stayed for a difficult year before joining the opening team at The Ledbury in Notting Hill, under Chef Patron Brett Graham (the place opened in April 2005).

This was a formative period for McHale, and during this time, he also staged at Noma (three weeks in 2008) and In De Wulf, as well as some spots in New York (including a day at Momofuku Ssam Bar). He left The Ledbury in December 2009 in order to open Elliot's Borough Market with two friends of his. While the restaurant was in work, he popped up at the Pavilion Cafe at Victoria Park, and also guest cheffed at The Loft Project, a supper club in East London started by Nuno Mendes. Two other chefs who'd cooked at The Loft Project were Ben Greeno and James Lowe (the three of them met through mutual friends from Noma), and in autumn 2010, they started working together, holding their first dinner in November at The Clove Club, an underground dining club in Dalston founded by Johnny Smith and Daniel Willis.

By December, the trio had taken on the moniker The Young Turks (named after the London-based record label), and held another dinner at the Hempel Hotel in West London. At the start of 2011, the vision for Elliot's had morphed into something much more casual, so McHale left the project and rejoined the team at The Ledbury, becoming development chef, a position he held for 11 months. Another four nights of the Young Turks at The Clove Club took place in February 2011, followed by a return to The Loft Project in March-April (Greeno had basically left by this point to work for David Chang), an appearance at a vacated building in Canary Wharf (part of the "Restaurants in Residence" series) in June-July, and two nights at Frank's Cafe & Campari Bar in Peckham in August. At the beginning of November 2011, the Young Turks, along with Smith and Willis, started what turned out to be a six-month tenure at the Ten Bells, a historic pub in Spitalfields owned by John Twomey.

Their residency came to a close at the end of April 2012, and following, they made several appearances overseas and began working on opening their own, separate restaurants. McHale subsequently returned to Upstairs at The Ten Bells, but announced plans for The Clove Club in August that year. Smith and Willis were also on board as partners, and after a successful crowd funding effort, the restaurant grand-opened on March 4th, 2013. The place was a hit pretty much right from the get-go, and secured its first Michelin star in September 2014, and its second in February 2022. The Clove Club landed on The World's 50 Best Restaurants list in 2016 at the #26 spot, and has remained on the ranking ever since then.

Given the success of The Clove Club, the partners have since expanded into other restaurants. In November 2016, they opened Luca, an Italian-British eatery in Farringdon/Clerkenwell helmed by Head Chef Robert Chambers; the place landed its own Michelin star in March this year. There was also Two Lights, led by Chase Lovecky, which opened in Shoreditch in October 2018, but shuttered at the start of the pandemic.

The Clove Club Bar
The Clove Club is actually comprised of two distinct areas. Shown above is the bar/lounge, which is where I was seated given that I was a solo diner.

The Clove Club Dining Room
And here's the main dining room in the back, with its very open kitchen.

The Clove Club Menu The Clove Club Menu (Final, Signed)
On the left, we see the menu presented to me at the beginning of the evening, while on the right is the signed, finalized version. The tasting menu is priced at £195 ($238.35) per head, plus 13% service, while wine, tea, and mixed pairings are available at £175 ($213.90), £75 ($91.67), and £125 ($152.79), respectively. Click for larger versions.

The Clove Club Introduction The Clove Club Cocktail List The Clove Club Sparkling & Alcohol-Free List The Clove Club Beer & Cider List The Clove Club Tea List The Clove Club Tea & Coffee List
The Clove Club Spirits List The Clove Club Whisky List The Clove Club Spirits List The Clove Club Tasting Flights The Clove Club After-Dinner Drinks List
Pictured above is the restaurant's selection of cocktails (created by Head Bartender Louis Chauvin, who took great care of me most of the night), beers, teas, coffees, and spirits. Meanwhile, the full wine list can be viewed here. Corkage is £75 ($91.67), limit one bottle per two guests. Click for larger versions.

Green Herb Broth
Amuse Bouche 1: Green Herb Broth
A cup of herb broth with chicken stock and white miso made for a marvelously herbaceous and homey start to my meal, really setting a comforting tone right from the beginning. It was just what I wanted after stepping into the restaurant from a cold, rainy autumn night.

Vermouth & Soda
Vermouth & Soda [£15.00 ($18.33)] | Aker Dry Aperitif, Pine Needle, Suze, Pear Soda. Long, fragrant & bitter.
I went with cocktails tonight, and my first was on the lighter, refreshing side for sure, with its aromatic notes of pine and pear joined by a bevy of complex, bittersweet notes and a long-lasting finish redolent of more of that pine needle. A great apéritif.

Pepper Tart
Amuse Bouche 2: Pepper Tart
A combo of braised green/red pepper and green pepper jelly was paired with a feuille de brick pastry base that provided contrast in both taste and texture.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Amuse Bouche 3: Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Along with the tartlet above came a delightfully tender, juicy shard of fried chicken, replete with a "gritty", lightly-fried crust and a sprinkling of pine salt. This was actually a holdover from the old pop-up days.

Cornish Crab Dumpling
Amuse Bouche 4: Cornish Crab Dumpling
Cornish crab showed off a delectably sweet, persistent brine, and was joined by an elderflower hollandaise, while a spice-dusted, solidified brown crab bisque amped up the umami quotient even more.

The Clove(r) Club
The Clove(r) Club [£18.00 ($22.00)] | No.3 London Dry Gin, Aker Rose Aperitif, Raspberry, Blossom Honey, Lemon, Foam. A house classic - Short, sharp & fruity.
This scarlet-tinted cocktail demonstrated some deliciously tart, fruity, berry-driven flavors, all set against countering elements of egg, honey, and citrus.

Beetroot & Apple Gazpacho
Amuse Bouche 5: Beetroot & Apple Gazpacho
A gazpacho granita did a commendable job conveying the essence of the classic soup, and offered up sweet, vegetal, bracing, herb-accented flavors that juxtaposed swimmingly with a smoky charcoal-infused cream.

Smoked Wiltshire Trout
1: Smoked Wiltshire Trout | Almond Milk, Watercress & Petrossian Oscietra Caviar [+£25.00]
Trout arrived wonderfully smoky, with a properly rare cook and some super crispy, salty skin. A dollop of Ossetra caviar magnified the brine factor further, and I was impressed by how well the fish paired with the sweet nuttiness of those slivered almonds.

Raw Orkney Scallop
2: Raw Orkney Scallop | Hazelnut, Clementine & Truffle
Sliced scallops displayed a cool, fine brine that stood up well to the woodsiness of black truffle. I was surprised at how seamlessly the hazelnuts married here, while a commixture of squid ink and beurre noisette helped tie the dish together.

Pina-Colada [£17.00 ($20.78)] | Clairin Benevolence Rum, Darroze 8yo Armagnac, Pineapple Sage, Coconut Water. Long, light & tropical.
The classic piña colada cocktail was given a makeover, its classically tropical notes tinged with hints of citrus, all while the potency of the Armagnac certainly made itself known.

Sourdough Bread & Cultured Butter
For bread service, I was provided a pleasantly nutty housemade sourdough, served with a soft, salty cultured butter.

Cornish Sardine Sashimi
3: Cornish Sardine Sashimi | Ginger & Chrysanthemum
This was actually Chauvin's favorite dish, and he knew what he was talking about, since it's also a contender for the best sardine dish I've ever had. The salinity of the fish was highlighted in a robust, yet utterly elegant manner, and I loved the counterpoint offered up by the lingering spiciness of ginger and the sweetness of that chrysanthemum glaze. Taking things over the top, meanwhile, was that potato crisp, with its superb savoriness and crunch. I wanted like a half-dozen more of these.

Sardine Head Broth
Accompanying the course above was a wondrously heady broth made from the head of the sardine, but which had this creaminess that kept things in check.

Native Blue Lobster
4: Native Blue Lobster | Sauce Choron & Sri Lankan Spices
A beautiful tail of Cornish blue lobster ate supple and rare and delicate, its sweetness enhanced by a smoked "bisque" and the ferment-y tang of piquillo pepper, all while the Choron imparted a creamy piquancy to the mix. Yum.

Mizuwari [£16.00 ($19.56)] | Craigellachie 13yo Scotch, White Peony and Golden Lily Milk Oolong tea. Long, complex & smoky.
My final cocktail was certainly the booziest of the bunch. It really did emphasize the fruity-yet-smoky nature of the whisky, but commingled with a plethora of tea-fueled floral nuances.

Duck Sausage (On Grill)
Duck Sausage
5: Duck Sausage | Duck & Ginger Consomme, Very Old Madeira
I'm a sucker for sausage, and though I enjoyed this anatine example, I felt that it could've used some more smoke and sear to really take it to that next level. Fortunately, the chanterelles added an extra bit of oomph to the dish, while a celeriac purée smoothed things out.

Very Old Madeira Duck & Ginger Consomme
The sausage was served with a 1968 D'Oliveiras Boal Madeira, which was mixed with a duck and ginger consommé. The concoction drank herby, nutty, and autumnal, with the dark-toned flavors of the Bual peeking through. Neat.

Yorkshire Grouse
6: Yorkshire Grouse | Elderberry, Clapshot & Bread Sauce
Given that we were in the midst of grouse season, I was glad to see it on the menu tonight. The bird might be the strongest tasting I've had, with a deep, almost briny savor that was further intensified by the application of grouse jus. However, the gamefowl was tempered by the comparatively mild nature of the clapshot and what I believe were mashed carrots, while a juniper berry-boosted bread sauce added further facets to the dish.

Grouse Boudin Blanc
The grouse was also turned into a boudin blanc. This was a much more approachable presentation, and was served with elderflower and what seemed like lentils.

Grilled Habanero Granita
7: Grilled Habanero Granita | Sorbet & Vanilla Yoghurt
My first dessert course combined a creamy yogurt base with a tart berry sorbet, while an icy habanero granité imparted the essence of the pepper without much of its heat.

Miaoli Oolong (Oriental Beauty)
To go along with my desserts, I opted for a serving of the Miaoli Oolong (Oriental Beauty) – Miaoli, Taiwan [£9 ($11.00)], a Baihao oolong produced with the help of tea jassids. I found it distinctly fruity, with a creeping undercurrent of bitterness and an agreeably sweet finish.

Sollies Fig
8: Sollies Fig | Coconut Mousse & Caramelized White Chocolate
Here, the sweet-tartness of fig was well matched by a smooth coconut panna cotta and the nuttiness of sesame and caramelized white chocolate.

Fig Donut
A warm doughnut arrived with a gratifying filling of fig. I wouldn't have mind a few more of these guys.

Petit Fours: Barley Cake, Orange Creme Diplomat + Chocolate Hazelnut Speculoos + Dark Chocolate Bonbon
Last up was a trio of mignardises. I began with the bonbon, which was teeming with the richness of Madagascar dark chocolate. Meanwhile, the barley cake possessed a marked nuttiness that was countered by the citrusiness of that crème diplomate. Finally, the speculoos biscuit was probably my favorite of the three thanks to its sweet, autumnal spicing.

The Clove Club made for a fitting, delicious conclusion to my recent time spent in Britain; my vacation certainly ended on a high note. McHale's cooking is a smart representation of modern British cuisine. Dishes are creative, sophisticated, intuitive, and even playful at times, but there's a certain stripped-down aspect to the food as well. It all made for the most refreshingly relaxed, sometimes surprising meal of this trip, and I can certainly see why so many people like this place. There's just an ease to it all--the accolades are well-deserved.

The Connaught Bar
The Connaught Bar Interior
Following dinner, I caught a taxi to The Connaught, an ever so posh hotel in Mayfair. I was there to pay a visit to the vaunted Connaught Bar, a rather stylish drinking establishment with a design ostensibly inspired by the British Cubist art movement of the 1920s. The place opened back in 2008, and is helmed by Agostino Perrone and his lieutenant Giorgio Bargiani.

Welcome Cocktail
A complimentary welcome drink comprised pineapple, sweet vermouth, and tonic. Think tropical and easy-going, but with a bit of a bitter backbone.

Viridis [£35.00 ($42.76)] | Basil Hayden Whisky, Raspberry & Cranberry Marsala Cordial, Sweet Vermouths Blend, Pierre Ferrand Yuzu Liquor
Despite what's pictured above, my first cocktail was indeed a shade of green, not blue, so I guess I'll blame the color rendition on the lighting. In any case, the drink was actually much more subtle than I was expecting, with a vegetal, subdued fruitiness and gentle spice undergirded by the kick of the whiskey.

Dry Crackers
Snacks included crisp, slightly herby, and somehow extremely drying crackers, as well as pitted olives.

Magnetum (Mixed)
Magnetum [£28.00 ($34.21)] | Macallan 12, lemon verbena, fresh fennel, Galliano L'Autentico, milk, fresh pineapple, Noe Pedro Ximenez Sherry, Bob's lavender bitters
My second cocktail featured something that I'd never encountered before: a custom strainer that was utilized to mix the layers of the drink. On the nose, this one was all about the Scotch, commixed with pear and zippy spices. Tasting it, I found bitters and whisky at the fore, but supported by a cast of dark fruit and oxidized notes.

Daydreaming [£26.00 ($31.77)] | Brugal 1888 Rum, Amaro Santoni, Apostoles Sherry, Connaught Bar Sweet Vermouth and Bitter mix, Tropical Milk Jam, Billecart-Salmon Brut champagne
I ended with the most unexpected cocktail of the night. The concoction was almost shockingly briny, savory, and vegetal, and quite unlike any drink I've had before. Yet, it was also somehow familiar, and actually recalled enchiladas(!), but with a hint of grapefruit.

Recipe Card: Viridis Recipe Card: Magnetum Recipe Card: Daydreaming
At the conclusion of my time here, I was presented with recipe cards for all the drinks I'd had. I've not come across anything like this before, but I have to say that it's a great idea that I'd like to see other bars copy. Click for larger versions.


Blogger H.Peter said...

Britain. The much ridiculed cuisine of Europe. Turns out just like anywhere else, when you look, you find.
Great series.

I patiently wait for Paris/France. (after Latin America)

Friday, December 22, 2023 9:08:00 PM  
Blogger Adam said...

Hi Kevin - I’ve been following your blog for years and years - thank you! What’s your favorite meal of 2023?

Wednesday, December 27, 2023 8:02:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

H.Peter: Indeed. Now nothing's set in stone, so perhaps France will end up preceding LatAm!

Adam: Great to hear that you've been enjoying the blog all these years! So that's a good question, one that I don't have a clear answer to unfortunately. I'm pretty sure that it would have to be somewhere outside of the US, though.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023 1:01:00 PM  

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