The Clove Club

The opening of The Clove Club earlier this year was one of the most eagerly awaited restaurant launches of 2013. It’s the combined effort of former Ledbury chef Issac McHale, and the pop-up maestro duo of Daniel Willis and Johnny Smith who ran the hugely successful Upstairs at Ten Bells. The menu is ambitiously refreshing, and focuses on the use of fresh, seasonal British ingredients. Home for The Clove Club is The Shoreditch Town Hall which has been turned into a bar area at the front, and a dining room at the back with an open plan kitchen. The space is light, airy and decorated with a minimalistic approach. It’s rather sparse in fact, and the lack of soft furnishings in the dining room meant dinner was a rather noisy affair.

Nevertheless, the food was excellent. Dinner was a set tasting menu that consisted of three little appetizers followed by three savoury courses and two desserts for a very reasonably priced £47. The first of our three appetizers was some perky and slightly crunchy English asparagus that was served with a fantastic gochuchang mayonnaise. Gochuchang is a Korean condiment made from red chili, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans and salt. Here it had been used to create a mayonnaise that gave the asparagus a little kick. A sprinkling of finely ground black sesame was warm and aromatic and worked with the asparagus nicely.

English asparagus

English asparagus

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Brasserie Malmaison

Brasserie Malmaison in the Malmaison Hotel in Clerkenwell has a lovely little spot overlooking the adorable greens of Charterhouse Square. A self-styled luxury hotel, the Victorian exterior of the hotel is charming and inviting. The limited road access to the hotel also helps to ensure low noise levels.

Once inside, you hit the lobby, and to the right are stairs leading down to Brasserie Malmaison in the basement. In contrast to the exterior, the restaurant’s décor looked tired and the lighting could have been better.

We started with a reasonably priced Cornish crab starter (£9.50). There was a lovely fresh, sweetness in the crab which had been dressed with a mint and shallot dressing. However deep-fried avocado fritters proved bland. The dish would have worked better with a no-frills simple accompaniment of ripe avocado.

Crab salad

Crab salad

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Morgan M

In December 2011 Chef Morgan Meunier moved his self-named restaurant Morgan M from its long standing Islington base to Barbican. I really enjoyed the food at Morgan M during my past visits (for my previous Morgan M post, click here). But I did find the trek to the outer reaches of Islington (given its distance from the tube) a little awkward. This move to Barbican seems ideal for making the restaurant more accessible.

The décor is pleasant and safe, but perhaps not as modern and slinky looking as one might expect from a Barbican/Farringdon location. The format of the menu has not changed, and I was happy to see that Morgan had kept hold of his £52 five course tasting menu. It was rather good value when you considered the quality of the cooking, the number of dishes and the fact that you could choose from two alternate dishes for each of the starter, main and dessert courses. And of course, there are the usual à la carte options for the picking.

For spring, the tasting menu kicked off with a warm tomato soup with purple basil and a tomato and olive oil sorbet which was lovely and refreshing. The icy sorbet provided a nice zingy contrast to the soup and promised a tantalising start to spring.

Warm tomato soup

Warm tomato soup

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St John – Visit # 2

My last visit to St John saw us tucking into their roast suckling pig. It was all rather yummy, but I still maintain, as I did in that write up, that I cannot understand why this restaurant holds a place in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list (currently 41st). St John also has a Michelin star, another fact which I find beggars belief. It might serve head to tail cooking, but its hardly refined or technical cooking. It’s good for a pleasant dinner out, but that’s about it.

I was quite adventurous and went for the pig’s spleen (£7) which was served rolled with bacon. This was my first foray into spleen which was similar in taste to very strong liver. Not particularly enjoyable, its flavour was very powerful which necessitated lots of pickles. This was not a dish for the faint of heart.

Rolled pig's spleen & bacon

Rolled pig's spleen & bacon

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Bistro du Vin Clerkenwell

Bistro du Vin Clerkenwell recently opened in London and will be the first of several restaurants to open up as part of the Hotel du Vin chain. The restaurant is welcoming, with a warm bistro-y feel. The décor is rustic and charming, with chalky grey and bluish tones. The walls are dotted with wine memorabilia, the fireplaces and corner pieces are stacked with decorative bottles and there is a strong use of wood throughout the restaurant. The intention is to provide a neighbourhood retreat, and Bistro du Vin has done this well. Diners have the option of eating at the pewter-topped bar (the longest dining bar in London) that circles the restaurant’s open kitchen, or to dine al fresco under during the warmer summer months. And of course, there is the option of eating at one of the many tables inside the cozy retreat.

We dined as guests of the restaurant and started with a Chase marmalade vodka martini (£10), a specialty of the house, which was damn good. This was followed by a some of the oysters on offer – fine de Claires (£3.50) and Cornish (£2.50) which were both delicious and fresh. But it was the former which won my heart with its robust meatiness.

Oysters

Oysters

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Bistrot Bruno Loubet

The excitement of getting to dine at Bruno Loubet’s latest London reincarnation – Bistrot Bruno Loubet at The Zetter Hotel – was surpassed, for me anyway, by the fact that we got to sit next to Sir Michael Caine during dinner. To be precise, he was actually sitting at the table next to us with his beautiful wife Shakira (you would never believe she’s 63), but he was so close to me I could have easily tapped him on his shoulder. He sounds just like he does on the big screen, all nasally in that charming, endearing kind of way. I pretended to be all cool, like I hadn’t noticed him, but I must admit to secretly gaping at him out of the corner of my eye.

Well it was no surprise that he would get fawned over – he is a huge celebrity after all. But what was surprising was just how useless our assigned waiter was. He took his time to come and take our order. And when he did come, he didn’t have a pen, so he walked off to get one, and then for some reason forgot to come back. What kind of waiter doesn’t have a pen? He also took his time delivering our bread. But that said, some of the other waiters who also served us during the evening were lovely and attentive, so I don’t think it would be fair to say that all of the service was bad.

Bruno Loubet earnt a notable reputation as a chef under the likes of Pierre Koffman and Raymond Blanc in the 1990s, before going on to successfully head up restaurants Bistro Bruno and L’Odeon. He spent much of the Noughties in Australia, but a decade later, and he’s back in London. With his background, it’s unsurprising that Bistrot Bruno Loubet is classically French.

Guinea fowl boudin blanc (£7) was exquisitely light with a mousse-like texture, but it was a touch heavy on the seasoning. The accompanying creamy leek fondue and chervil sauce married beautifully with the gentle guinea fowl flavour. Having once watched a boudin blanc demonstration at Le Cordon Bleu, this is a fairly complex dish to make. This was a wonderful rendition of the Lyonnaise classic.

Guinea fowl boudin blanc

Guinea fowl boudin blanc

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Sedap

Nyonya use to be one of my favourite cheap-eats in London. Great food is always hard to pass up, and when combined with cheap prices, makes it even harder to beat. As a bit of an ex-regular, I couldn’t help but lament Nyonya’s closing. I suspect the exorbitant Notting Hill rental prices must have had something to do with it.

But the people behind it came back to open up Sedap (which means delicious in Malayan) in Old Street about a year ago. The location is far less glamorous than Notting Hill, but the menu prices have remained cheap. The downside is that it’s harder for me to get to and I no longer call myself a regular. So this was my first visit since it opened up as Sedap, and I must say, it was definitely worth the wait.

We started with kerabu prawns (£6.50), a fresh, crunchy salad of prawns and cucumber finished with a kerabu dressing. Loving the combination of sweet, sour and salty flavours that are a hallmark of a kerabu, we polished this off in minutes. Finely chopped peanuts and black fungus added crunchiness to the salad, and the chilli gave it a nice little kick.

Kerabu prawns

Kerabu prawns

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St John Bar & Restaurant

Roast suckling pig

Roast suckling pig

For her birthday, KK organised a huge day of celebrations, starting off with a treasure hunt in a park in North London that, despite the threat of rain, looked glorious with all the leaves lying fallen in their beautiful autumnal colours. Her husband, as host, went into character as a pirate – donning a rather bad pirate’s accent in the process – and for the ultimate look in authenticity, all the clues had been beautifully hand drawn as maps, stained with tea and with their edges burnt to look frayed. My team fared dreadfully, but we all got to share in the winnings – lots of yummy chocolates – so I really had nothing to complain about.

The treasure hunt was followed by drinks, which were then followed by the ultimate prize, a roast suckling pig feasting dinner at St John Bar & Restaurant in Clerkenwell, a one star Michelin restaurant which is also ranked number 14 in this year’s San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards. Having never tried the roast pig at St John’s before, I was really looking forward to it, especially because we were all absolutely ravenous from a full day of scavenging for treasure. Along with the pig, which is designed to feed 14 to 16 people, the feast includes a choice of two starters, side dishes and two desserts (pricing policy mentioned below).

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