The Clove Club, Shoreditch Town Hall – doesn’t take a hipster…
The Clove Club is one of the most exciting new restaurant openings in London (on my very subjective personal list – for the complete one head to Hot Dinners). I feel very tepid on many of them and no, it’s not just sour grapes as I know scoring a table at Balthazar may prove as hard as saving up to foot the bill at Bo London. But The Clove Club, from the same trio of the excellent Upstairs at Ten Bells- Daniel Willis, Johnny Smith and chef Isaac McHale- who crowfunded the venture Kickstarter-style, was much awaited, if anything else as it is literally a few steps from my new abode (*casually drops news of moving*). I got on the phone at 09.00.01 AM on the day the booking opened and got a table for the third day of the opening- and very glad I did. The only review I’ve seen so far, from the Evening Standard, pretty much dismissed The Clove Club food credentials, talking of “food for bloggers” and hipster clientele. Well, maybe living in Hoxton Square makes me a hipster, most definitely I am a blogger- that’s maybe why I liked it? You can judge for yourself below…
Space and decor: as their minimalist, sleek website will tell you, at The Clove Club you can eat both at the bar – an informal space with a stylish array of reclaimed wood tables around a metallic structure for the counter; or in the main dining room, a high-ceiling quite bare space livened up by the open kitchen with its beautiful tiled surfaces. It is all very East London and studiously put together, but not in an “in your face” way – say like in Meat Mission- and threads the border between achingly cool and authentic pretty well, including restrooms which are equally beautiful (if Edwardian toilets are your thing) and impractical (no hot tap water). The only thing I may suggest to the managers (and we did on the night)- whack the heating up as it is a bit cold even after too much wine and some very rich food.
The main dining room and the restrooms. the Edwardian Shoreditch Town Hall building, built in 1904, is a grade II listed property and not much seems to have been touched
Service: I was slightly late, and completely unknown to the front of house or chefs (I have been a silent admirer at the Ten Bells- on which I never got around to write, but never spoke to them); if I was expecting some opening-week glitch, there was none to be spotted at The Clove Club except the unavoidable fresh paint smell. We got a warm reception, attentive service with a positive passion in explaining the dishes and ingredients and a kitchen running like clockwork with very reasonable waiting times between the (many) dishes. After cocktails at the bar – a bit weak to be honest- and soaking up the atmosphere, we were shown to our table for the tour-de-force tasting menu. I really liked being so close to the glistening, steaming, pulsating open kitchen hub where many chefs in pretty blue-and-white aprons toil away on the dishes.
The open kitchen at The Clove Club is a joy for the eyes and a welcome addition of warmth to the room
The food: overall, the style of cooking at The Clove Club is not dissimilar to the one already tried and tested at the Ten Bells- perhaps with an ambition to be more refined and creative in presentation. Many dishes reminded me of the Corner Room, but don’t ask me to pinpoint exactly why- and I mean it as a compliment anyway. There is some use of “East-meets-West” ingredients, like gochujang (a Korean condiment already dubbed as one of 2013 food trends by those food cool hunting types) and seaweed, but at its heart it’s still centred on good British produce, elevated by spotless preparation and clever pairings of flavours, textures and temperatures.
Starters- Radishes, Sesame and Gochujang; Buttermilk Chicken and Pine Salt; Cheese Gougeres
Starters featured the signature Ten Bells buttermilk chicken on pine leaves- crisp and juicy and as good as friend chicken can get- and a wonderful dip of gochujang and cream with sesame for fresh radishes, alongside some delicate cheese gougeres.
As the pics speak pretty much for themselves, I’ll spare you the rundown of each course and do the bullet point thing instead (professional deformation)
- the said gochujang cream, that made me rethink my relationship with radish (none, before realising you can dip them in sauce)
- incredibly, a dish of Warm Fennel, Seaweed & Walnut Cream on which I had no expectations (fennel is one of my pet peeves and I think there is a reason why most human beings don’t eat algae) but turned out to be a delicious symphony of flavours, with the sweet aniseed notes a counterpointed by fishiness and brought together by whipped light sour cream and finished by crunchy walnut
- the black leg roasted and smoked chicken with gem lettuce- a dish from the bar menu which we were kindly offered by the manager (who probably saw us oogling over the roast chicken over the kitchen top). It was as good as the best chicken we had in Asia, where there is along tradition of cooking birds in a way which doesn’t kill the moisture in the flesh and the flavour. I’d be back just for that.
- a triumphant dessert where sheep’s milk was whipped into a light, sweet mousse with a hint of tanginess, mixed with chucks of blood orange, stripes of orange jelly and delicate sheets of milk crisps and topped with wild fennel sorbet (surpringly again, I loved fennel on this dish).
Left: Black Leg Chicken, Gem Lettuce, Garlic Aioli (from bar menu); Ruby Red Beef, Ramson and Potato
“The rest” was consistently good (including the French cheese you can have for £4 extra on the menu) well thought and well cooked and presented on warm plates- a nice touch, especially on a fairly cold room- down to the bread and butter which are often a letdown but were spotless here. The wine list seems fairly well-priced, with options for most budgets; we had a fruity Riesling, but next time I’m curious to try one of the many Sicilian wines on the lists and see how it goes with such un-Mediterranean food.
Only a couple courses failed to win me over; I love leek and mussels but the dish just didn’t do it for me, and same goes for the ginger mousse which I found a tad too bitter even for a palate cleanser. I also do love my dairy (clue the extra cheese) and din’t mind the presence of cream and cheese at every step but I know other people may think differently, so just remember to inform them about the dietary requirements (we were correctly asked both on the night and when making a reservation). However, this shouldn’t be a concern in general as I hear that the set menu changes constantly as they try out different combinations for the tasting and the bar menu. SO all in all I had some very enjoyable food and I definitely haven’t felt “experimented upon” at The Clove Club, like David Sexton of the Evening Standard wrote on his quite snarky review.
Clockwise from top right: Warm Cider and Ginger Mousse; Blood Orange, Sheep’s Milk Mousse and Wild Fennel; Chicory Tea Cake; and the bill, of course ;)
On my night at The Clove Club, I didn’t see “food du bloguer” nor a hipster crowd-pleaser by design, but some chefs and restaurant entrepreneurs who really like doing what they do, and put a lot of effort into it; if this happens to be stylish, and du jour, well that’s not a fault is it? Also, whilst there were obviously some “family and friends” in the dining room with us, I didn’t notice that embarassing, secret-handshake-clique atmosphere plaguing many new openings; the vibe was welcoming and buzzing. Maybe the first reviewers experienced the obvious cons of an opening night, with the compulsory food press crowd which- oh god, quelle horreur!- nowadays includes bloggers in addition to ES journalists. My “hipster + blogger” opinion is that for £47 (tasting menu, cheese and wine extra) The Clove Club offered me a grand feast, excellent value and great promise of even better things to come if this is the first week. I am very pleased to have a serious contestant for the third apex of my “golden triangle” of local restaurants already including Brawn in Columbia Road and the Corner Room, and I can’t wait to go back after the hi(p)steria dies out to give The Clove Club another go.
Have you been to The Clove Club? Tell me what you think in the comments, I am very interested in knowing what other people have to say…
P.S. I also visited The Clove Club for lunch – read my review here