09 November 2020

At The Clove Club, a Pre-Lockdown Birthday Celebration

With both my holiday and birthday plans brought to a screeching halt by the sudden announcement of a second lockdown in England last week, I took the opportunity to arrange a pre-lockdown early birthday dinner for myself. The Clove Club in Shoreditch, which has a Michelin star and which features on the world's 50 best restaurants list, has long been on my fine-dining wishlist. Its popularity means booking well in advance is usually essential, but changing rules and restrictions in London and beyond, meant I was able to secure a slot at the chef's counter on Lockdown Eve Eve.

Located in Shoreditch Town Hall on Old Street, just off Shoreditch High Street, The Clove Club produces a regularly changing tasting menu that spotlights ingredients from around the British Isles. The small dining room, with its minimalist décor, has several seats around the counter as well as tables around the edge. Like many restaurants, they had to substantially reduce the number of covers in line with COVID-19 guidelines, but saw a sudden surge of last-minute bookings and they were fully booked when I was there.

I don't usually do this but as I was dining alone, I had mentioned when booking that I was celebrating my birthday and a birthday card was waiting for me at my spot at the counter. The service was excellent all night, particularly from Caue and Aurélien, who took really good care of me, talking me through the dishes and ensuring I was having a good time. At lunchtimes and Monday to Thursday evenings, there is a shorter tasting menu available, but knowing this was going to be my last in-restaurant fine-dining experience for some time, I opted for the full menu (minus a rather truffle-heavy dish). NB: you don't see the menu in advance so each dish is a surprise.

After perusing the short but sweet drinks menu, I opted for a False Start cocktail — whose name seemed appropriate given what happened to my attempted holiday. Mixed with damson, mezcal, tequila, Mirabelle Eau de Vie, bergamot and black sun tea, it was sweet, sour and delightfully sparkling. Before long, the 'snacks' course arrived. The deep-fried pollock — a favourite of the chef growing up — was my favourite, and came with a ricotta-stuffed radish, a herb broth, and a beetroot and apple granita with barley cream.

Next up were two fish courses: smoked trout with almond milk, watercress and pike roe, followed up by a mini celebration of Torbay prawns. The sourcing of the latter pleased me as Torbay was one of my cancelled holidays planned for next week, so at least I got to sample its seafood. My favourite prawn dish was the bite-sized crispy prawn head served with quince, but there were were also prawns with a slightly spicy marinade and a prawn broth.

One of the things I love most about tasting menus is that they force you to leave your comfort zone, trying foods and dishes that are delicious but that you wouldn't normally have ordered. This was the case with the pig trotter croquette, which I might have been too squeamish to order but which was incredibly moreish. Had there not been many more dishes to look forward to, I might have wished there had been a second. At this point, I ordered another cocktail, going off menu this time and asking the bartender to surprise me. And indeed I was very pleasantly surprised with a twist on the Clover Club — also the name of one of my favourite Brooklyn bars — with gin, raspberry, lemon, soda and absinthe.

Perhaps the most Instagrammed dish on the current menu is the Orkney scallop, served in its shell with Périgord truffle and a potato butter sauce. It was beautifully presented and tasted just as good. The next course turned out to be a liquid course. I sampled some of the Boal Madeira in a wine glass, which was then topped up with a hot duck and ginger consommé, a comforting and beautifully paired combination.

It was very hard to pick a favourite course but if I had to choose, it would be the pork loin, which was exquisite, served alongside a potato and black pudding slice, gingerbread puree and carrots. I took tiny bites so that I could savour the flavours for as long as possible.

Then it was time for pudding: or puddings, as it turned out. I don't love figs, but the fig and damson granita with fig leaf cream was sweet and refreshing. It was followed by a potato-based dessert. Yes, you read that right! The dish featured a very light potato mousse, with coffee meringue and caramel ice cream. It sounds a bit wrong, but the flavours worked very well together. After making short work of the ensuing petits fours, I then got a final chocolate praline patisserie, which had a birthday message for me.

By the end of the meal, I was already making plans for a return to The Clove Club when it's open again after lockdown, ideally with friends or family next time. The menu was creative and varied, the food perfectly cooked and beautifully presented, and the staff, as I mentioned, were wonderful. If you're looking for somewhere special to celebrate, post-lockdown, The Clove Club would be an excellent place to do so. 

The Clove Club. Shoreditch Town Hall, 380 Old Street, London, EC1V 9LT (Shoreditch High Street Overground). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

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