Day 3 – The Clove Club (lunch) and Riverside Feast at Battersea Power Station (dinner)
My last day on this London mini-break saw me returning to Shoreditch for what turned out to be the best meal of the trip. The former site of Shoreditch Town Hall now plays home to The Clove Club, with the restaurant taking stage in two fairly expansive rooms, one bar and another dining, and the later occupied with an open kitchen so stark it feels as though the fixtures and chefs are a part of the deep-blue tilled room. Despite this the restaurant’s ambience remains calm and effortless.
On this occasion I dined in the peaceful bar area surrounded by hanging charcuterie meats prepared in-house and views of the world passing by from the large glass windows. The Clove Club is the brain child of Isaac McHale (one of the other integral members of the Young Turks with James Lowe of Lyle’s) who earned his culinary pedigree working under Bret Graham (The Ledbury) as well as in Copenhagen with Rene Redzepli (Noma). The focus is on local, seasonal produce to architect and create an array of dishes that pay tribute to this exciting new age of modern British cooking.
At lunch the options are a three course set-lunch (with two choices for each course at £35), and a five course (£55) or ten course (£95) tasting menus. We opted for the five course. I also opted for a couple of negronis (I know it’s a digestive but I don’t care) to take the edge off the slightly irritating yet progressively increasing hangover. All three lunch choices commence with a selection of canapé style snacks, as seems to be accustom with this form of dining. Wood-pigeon sausage with greengage (a slightly sour fruit in the plum family) ketchup was robust and meaty in texture and flavour, tarts of sheep’s milk yoghurt, green beans and onion flower (salty and savoury), and nuggets of tender chicken with crisp buttermilk coasting and a lightly floral pine salt. Presumably the chicken is presented nestled in a basket of pine leaves for association purposes in case you don’t know what pine is… All were delicious and all were devoured in a few greedy seconds. Buttermilk chicken was the kind of moreish finger food you could snack on endlessly with a decent pint of ale. At least with the departure of snacks came thick slices of sour dough bread with a perfectly formed dark crust, this has to be the best bread I’ve eaten all year, accompanied by a slab of salty, creamy butter that’s churned on site. So good in fact we had two rounds of the stuff and I’m not ashamed to say were tempted by a third… Best bread I’ve had all year. I kid you not.
On to the main dishes and first plates were brought to the table by one of the chefs along with a bowl containing some rather sad looking limes. The chef explained that these shrivelled black limes had been left to ferment and once desired rotten state had been achieved the flesh and juice were used in the dish we were about to eat. I would have been more disconcerted at this news if the dish of Cornish red mullet sashimi didn’t look so attractively appealing on the plate. Slices of red mullet seasoned with soy were topped with a foam and gratings derived from the fermented limes, both of which were mild in citrus flavour and balanced nicely against the distinctive strong flavour of the red mullet. Next and my favourite dish of the afternoon was Cornish dover sole, oak smoked roe, spinach and brown butter. This was a fine example of quality British ingredients cooked with classical French technique and precision – my kind of cooking. The dover sole had been roasted on the bone for maximum flavour to give perfectly yielding flesh that married wonderfully with the beurre noisette (nut-brown butter) sauce. The accompanying wilted spinach tasted iron-rich and sweet against the smoked roe’s deep savoury flavour, both helping to tie the dish together. Little puffed-up potato squares gave a bit of crunch to this lovely natural looking plate of food. Our last savoury dish of roast haunch of sika deer, white beetroot and redcurrant sounded more autumnal than summer, but proved to be surprisingly delicate and elegant. I’ve never tasted sika deer before and its robust gamey flavour was satisfying when eaten with the earthy beetroot and slightly sweet redcurrant sauce.
Next to arrive was the first of our sweet courses and it wasn’t a disappointment, this was my accompanying luncheon friend’s favourite course – he couldn’t stop raving about it! The menu description of Amalfi lemonade and sarawak pepper didn’t give much away. Brought to our tables were small bowls containing a lemon posset made using lemons from the Amalfi Coast in Italy that are famed for their huge size and sweet, intense flavour. Sharp yet sweet like lemonade, we now understood the name. Hidden underneath was a bold sarawak pepper ice cream that added warmth on the tongue and contrasted against the lemon. This was a sweet, zingy dessert and palate cleanser all rolled into one. Truly excellent. The final dish was blackcurrant leaf ice cream and beremeal biscuit. The ice cream was lightly floral and aromatic with blackberry flavour but the real standout was the accompanying jelly that was so intense in blackberry flavour it was like drinking Robinsons fruit squash straight from the bottle without first diluting with water – except of course not so rancid and crude.
Lastly we were brought a trio of petit fours including soft barley cakes with an ever so subtle peat smoked flavour, the restaurant’s very own chocolate bar flavoured with almond and complete with bespoke wrapping, and a brace of bon bons that came with a written homage to chef Fergus Henderson and the Italian liquor Fernet Branca. The delicate sugar shell bon bons dissolved in the mouth to reveal a liquid core of Fernet Branca.
The Clove Club is quite simply brilliant. There is a confidence to everything on show and it’s not hard to see why. From the open kitchen delivering consistent, well conceived plates of British food with the use of modern cookery as opposed to brash experimentation seen in restaurants in the same vein, to a front-of-house team who ooze professionalism and hospitality while clearly taking pride and care in the food they are serving. Restaurant trends come and go in a city like London and especially in an area so laden with the diversity of youth, style and culture as Shoreditch. The Clove Club however conducts itself so well and modestly that it’s hard to see it ever going out of fashion, and if anything it could be the restaurant to give London and British cooking the much needed identity it’s always been crying out for since St John’s came along 20 years ago.
That evening I ended my trip at Riverside Feast at Battersea Power Station. After living in Battersea for several years before embarking on my chef career in Bangkok it gave great pleasure to return, after all the power station is my favourite landmark building in London and I’ve never before had an opportunity to visit. Riverside Feast takes place every Thursday to Sunday until the end of August and is the last opportunity to get up close and personal with Battersea Power Station before its 42 acre redevelopment project begins later this year. This remarkable space plays host to a rotating line-up of London street food vendors (around 10-12 vendors a day), multiple bars and a large outdoors cinema screening classic films (Withnail and I was playing when I attended). I can’t fault the concept but unfortunately I didn’t feel the vendors were all that exciting, various gourmet burgers, hot dogs and other spruced up fast-food concepts made up the majority of choice, although maybe I was just unlucky on the day. I’ve learnt to carefully contemplate food options at these types of events as to not result in food envy from others in the group and my golden rule is to always see the dish before you order, trust me on this if you want to avoid disappointment. After carefully contemplation I settled on the BBQ pork ribs from Hot Box. Three jumbo ribs lathered in a sweet and smoky sauce and served with slaw, an array of pickles and a toasted brioche roll (although I asked for the addition of the roll, but wasn’t charged so that was nice of them).
With it being British summer any outdoor event is typically threatened by dark skies and imminent downpour so before long we made a dash for cover at one of my favourite old-time drinking holes housed in an old riverside warehouse just off Battersea Bridge Road. Doodle Bar is a stripped back industrial space serving an array of well-crafted cocktails, wine and beers. Punter are welcomed to grab some chalk and encouraged to unleash their inner Picasso by doodling on the blackboard covered walls. Doodle Bar also happens to be the home of British street food champions Street Kitchen who were the innovators for the modern day street food movement now seen in London and helped propel a number of small business eateries by allowing them to host pop-up events using the Street Kitchen and Doodle Bar space. My favourite being the now massively popular Patty & Bun, home to the Ari Gold burger and in my opinion the best damn burger in town!
The Clove Club – Shoreditch Town Hall, 380 Old Street, London
Riverside Feast – Battersea Power Station, Queenstown Road, London (until August 30th)
Doodle Bar – 33 Parkgate Road, Battersea, London