Restaurant Review
British, One Michelin Star 3

The Clove Club – Spring 2016

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There is functional elegance about this room, an honest grandeur, welcoming and tranquil like morning daisies. It doesn’t feel like 3 years since I was last here, but it has, long enough for their 2013 vintage of charcuterie to ripen for service. I have such fond memories of the Ten Bells days (Gio and Jarrod now on their own), I am certain you too have emotionally subscribed to the promise that the Young Turks eventually brought us. It was only a mere 5-6 years ago but look how far Isaac Mchale and James Lowe have come with their pair of restaurants blazing the trail in London today.

Alongside Isaac are Dan Willis and Johnny Smith, front of house duo who make the experience of the Clove Club the inviting prospect it has become. They complete the trinity of restaurant ownership, alongside their group of crowd-funded investors. The restaurant name traces back to Dan and Johnny’s Dalston supperclub legacy itself taking the same name as a nearby school’s old boys club which counts Michael Caine as a member. Isaac was brought up in Glasgow, spending his teens working part-time at a local fishmongers and at Stravaigin before embarking on his gastronomic adventure with the incredible Mark Best in Sydney (Arpege, Arpege). He then came to London where he firstly joined Tom Aikens, then six years with the Ledbury, and then a brief but meaningful spell at Noma and an even briefer but no less impactful meditation with a certain Mr Chang. Isaac’s mix of experience would inform his cooking style, one that continues to shape the conversation about modern British cooking today.

These guys have not rested on their laurels since opening shop. While linen and carpet will never hide away the beautiful knots of their wooden tables and floors, Isaac and 2nd in command Tim Spedding (also ex-ledbury) have furiously pushed the boat out on their vision of the Neo British bistro, incubating fresh ideas with friendly interaction with the (global) cheffing community to shift their cuisine into higher gear. Their good work has been gangbusters to date, garnering a well-deserved macaroon, a spot on that famous list and much local love. The core principles appear intact as day one, though menus now read of greater intent, ambition and deeper obsession with even better ingredients. I read somewhere that they are considering growing their own vegetables, it is music to loyal Passard fans. Now there is an extended carte blanche menu for £95, in addition to the (standard) 5 course taster for £65 and an ALC lunch. To do this bigger show, there appears to be even more hands working behind Isaac’s blue tiled pass in the dining room.

I visited high noon on Friday with Sam, and wanted to try the £95 extended carte blanche. Sam is dairy intolerant, first off kudos to the kitchen being able to send out a totally non-dairy friendly long play option. All main ingredients were same as my plates, most dairy swaps were straightforward, butter for olive oil, milk for soya, only one snack was a full change-out, dehydrated onion for haggis bun. This cook’s book isn’t only written in French after all. Also, they do soft pairings, juices and teas, with the taster menus. This intrigues and I hope to do this on another return visit. Small touches but nice to know they can cover the bases.

-Snacks-

1.Cods roe, matcha, oat cake; Chickpea panisse

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Excellent cods roe puree with a nod to Chef’s roots.

2. Clockwise. Buttermilk fried chicken with pine salt; Mushroom (?) roll ; Onion ; Haggis bun ; Broad beans tart

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What a spread hey? You feel the big game step-up from the get go, small bites prepped with certain refinement. Beans that appear individually picked, cleaned, oil, it glistens and are oh so sweet. The haggis bun a delicious morsel of simple complexity. It’s piping hot in the centre, encased in a slightly sweet fried bun, like a sweet and savoury donut. Another nod to Scotland. Appetite fully whetted.

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This chicken. Still the best. I’ve had this more than a few times at Upstairs and it is always piping hot, succulent, juicy thigh meat. The temperature accentuates that pine forest aroma, the basket is a small visual touch, but no less effective sensory enhancement. Incredible fried chicken. (I did say stand-alone shop in 2012, still think so..)

-Starters-
with 2014 Ajaccio Blanc “Cuvée Faustine”, Comte Abbatucci £11 gls

3. Flamed Cornish Mackerel, English Mustard, Cucumber

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I love shime saba and always glad to see this in London restaurants. Jun Tanaka makes a version, but this is better and dare I say even better/on par with what you might get in Kyoto.

I love that the cure is not overly aggressive, just enough to add fragrance, while the flesh retains its natural oiliness from the torch. More fat helped by the creamy mayo (or aioli?) giving rise to a taste not unlike eating the belly of fish. Mustard screeches to lift the palate. Cucumber tastes like it has spent some time in the pickling juices too, freshness. At first I thought the fish may have also seen some ageing, but the team let me know that it’s totally fresh and basically just good catch, no bruising, handled well on the boat. Perfect.

4. Hay smoked trout tartare and Jersey royal sauce

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Cold dish, the fish’s sweetness is given extra oomph when it blends with the cold potato veloute, texture of thickened milkiness. I like this distant smell of hay, forest aromas akin to the buttermilk fried chicken. Great pairing and balance.

5. Slow poached Oyster, beef jelly and grilled cream

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55c oyster. The jelly gives way to this interesting textural melding, like crashing waves on the palate, it melts as it meets your 37c. The beef stock just lingers with scent of mineral brine. Its a perky dish, I like the layers very much, it’s effective. This reminds me also of Atherton’s BLT dish from Maze.

6. Spring Herb Broth

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The taste of saturating colours of the season. The broth has this algae and moss funk, a graininess, it’s almost alive. Cockles, asparagus, peas and what appears to be langoustine. A beauty.

-Interlude-

7. Charcuterie, butter and sourdough. All house made.

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An appreciation of Mangalitza. This should be about 18 months old, air-dried since Sept 2013. It is served at room temperature, as is the butter, so the fat is soft and oily. The restaurant’s excellent sourdough appears at this point. It might actually be my favourite course, this is very good charcuterie indeed.

-Fish-

8. Charcoal grilled pollock, asparagus, cedrat & kampot pepper

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Well-seasoned and grilled until taut but of perfect flakiness. This lemon pepper cream puts fat back on the palate, together it gives the overall sensation of sweet freshness. The peas are cooked down to a marriage of French and Italian, the sweetness a little more pronounced, and the bite just giving way to a soft nuttiness. I love how they’ve served up thin peels of lemon, a finish of sizzling bitter zest. Just delicious.

9. English asparagus En Papillote, bacon, cow’s curd and lemon verbena

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This dish plays like an epilogue to the fish, also entirely an appreciation of the season. Here the asparagus takes the lead, bacon fat lubricating the palate with a crame fraiche-like lemon curd as a dip. Flower petals, a pretty dip.

-Duck-Duck-Duck-
with 2010 Haut Medoc, Clos du Jaugueyron £11 gls

Challans Duck in three servings.

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Check out that caramel armour. The ultimate deliciousness. You want this. You do. No need to keep scrolling. Surprise already spoiled. Just book now.

The bird is dry-aged in house for 21 days, with a Heather honey and black beer glaze and dusted with a multitude of spices. It is then whole-roasted for 26 minutes and as it rests, it is presented to the tables which have opted for it.

10. Duck, Part One: Light duck consommé with 100 year old Madeira

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A splash of 1908 D’Oliveiras Madeira Boal Reserva in the wine glass – smell that fragrance. I should mention that I could not resist sipping it (sorry Jonny). Then in goes the hot consomme, poured from a brandy decanter. A subtle visual trickery, as the colour exactly resembles your favourite XO. I assume the consomme is made from the carcasses. The aromatics are off the charts, it makes sense to drink it from a wine glass.

It reminds me of double boiled soup, light but rich, the alcohol adds a brown sugar edge, not unlike how my mum used to tip a dash of cognac into her soups. A nourishing stunner. I loved this. Scratch the earlier comment. This is my favourite course.

11. Duck, Part Two: Breast, fermented cabbage and Beetroot

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The bird is cooked perfectly, perfect pink and is supremely tender and juicy. A masterclass in roasting meat. Meat has always been a highlight of Isaac’s cooking, it is never over-cooked. This French bird is a lean one, so you don’t get oil dribbling all over the shop, which I appreciate. There is a buttery or even nuttiness, incredible depth of flavour here, which I assume is partly down to ageing and partly because this is just fantastic produce. I wonder where Isaac sourced it; does Burgaud also send their stock here, as well as to Tour and to Otto’s? If not, he should, this is such beautiful work.

I like this spiced salt on the side, a sweet and zesty pepperiness, it reminds me very much of the white pepper salt you get in Chinese restaurants when they dish out crispy chicken. The skin’s sweetness does remind me of very good char siu (for me, I think of Ming Court HK), an impression of the best charsiu and roast duck jammed together. No idea where the inspiration for this dish is from, perhaps snippets of Daniel Humm. I have no doubt this can pass for siulap of distinction. The only criticism is that there isn’t enough of it on the plate. I want more! Would Isaac ever consider doing just a duck feast I wonder. I would love to have a whole bird for a meal.

12. Duck, Part Three: Hay smoked sausage, leg…

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And it gets better. I asked for thigh, they acknowledged it. More oiliness, more buttery depth of flavour, obscene deliciousness. I asked for more, but they ran out as they sent the rest to the other tables.

…and Skin.

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We do Peking duck to finish. Delicious fat indeed. Every part of this bird just tastes so bloody good. A wonderful experience, especially for London. If you love your duck, you shouldn’t miss this.

-Pudding-

13. Warm blood orange, sheep’s milk yoghurt and wild fennel granita

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An acidic tour of ornate quality, tart orange and cold stones of herbaceous tones. There is this textural tension, ice chips, cooling smooth yoghurt, the airy milk ‘crisps’ and the gel of orange. It is as good as I first had this 3 years ago.

14. Loquat sorbet, loquat kernel cream and puffed amaranth

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As is now recognisable as Isaac’s style, pudding is like breakfast. Milk, cereal, the smell of popcorn, a finish that I find soothing. It is enhanced by an acidic ice cream centre of loquat, the flavours somewhere between orange and lemon.

Supplemental (£10) – Encore of duck breast
(Sam had the blood orange again for £8)

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It was so good that I had to have it again. Second helpings were even better than the first. I am convinced. This is beautiful duck.

Coffee and petit fours

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Malt Cake

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Warm and fluffy.

Air dried, until next time..

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We paid £282.38 for two extended tasters, 2 extra courses, 2 glasses of wine, 2 virgin cocktails and 2 coffees.

The 2000 VCC is a fine achievement for Mr. Thienpont and is priced at £350 on Clove Club’s wine list. It is (only) a 1.8 to 2x mark-up, and it looks attractive to me, as this wine can at times punch the lights out of higher flying Pomerol. Le Pin and Petrus are special, but so is VCC, without the four figure price tag. I’d love to drink with a feast of duck.

I definitely had a great meal. The kitchen was a tour de force, every element cooked carefully, each plate put together with ridiculous balance. Then there is the actual experience, it’s so relaxed, with slick and professional waiting. The junior chefs also present you with plates of food that they have spent the past minutes assembling. Like its charcuterie, the restaurant has got better with age. Developing complexity all the while keeping the semblance of what you know and love. There’s more of it now and with more polish.

This is food put together by people who respect the conventions of what tastes good. Each plate a reconstruction of umami and deliciousness. The experience may be informal, in keeping with the times and other modern casuals (I think of KO, Septime), but the cooking is progressing seriously at a healthy pace. I love classical restaurants of course, after all this current (golden) generation of chefs did learn their craft at those hallowed establishments. However, I do also love bistronomy especially when it is unshackled and so good like this.

Details

The Clove Club
Modern British
Extended £95pp ; Five courses £65pp ; ALC Lunch (ave) £10/£19/£8 + drinks + service
Shoreditch Town Hall
380 Old St, London EC1V 9LT
Tel : 020 7729 6496
Tube: Liverpool St

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3 Comments

  • Sam says: May 5, 2016 at 4:34 pm

    I love the simplicity of the room – it’s almost as if they’re saying you don’t need the faff, just focus on the food! It’s been a while since I’ve been but that duck just looks incredible. I think I need to book a table pretty sharpish!

    Reply
  • Aidan O'Kane says: August 18, 2016 at 10:42 am

    Did you order the two extra courses when you were there ?

    Thanks AIdan

    Reply
    • Kang L. says: August 18, 2016 at 12:16 pm

      Aidan – You mean the extra course of duck and pudding ? Yes, we asked for that, after we finished the pudding.

      Reply

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