The restaurant itself is located on the ground floor of the old town hall providing high ceilings, lots of natural light, and very little cooking space it seems, and in the main dining room, all tables provide full views into a very open kitchen. While the dining rooms are both kitted out in a relatively basic style (there are of course no table cloths), everything here seems coherent, with the venue, the service and the food all natural compliments for each other.
The menu does not set out to baffle you with the unusual for the most part, and at lunch, the two main courses are listed as simply as 'duck egg, English asparagus & morels', together with 'house sausage with peas, borlotti beans & smoked onion puree'. Couldn't get more simple, eh? The 'house sausage' however gives another insight into style here as cured hams and sausages etc are all now being made on site. Far from the hispter image conjured by the press, this is a place with cured hams hanging under the staircase, so is better seen as a kitchen in genuine pursuit of skill, knowledge and production of food, and most certainly not a trend or a fashion, even if the trendy and fashionable choose to eat there. On our visit, guests seemed normal enough.
'Simplicity' in the menu in the very best restaurants implies maturity and confidence, in the idea, the produce and in turn, the final product. It's more often about taking things away than adding them and a chef knowing there's nowhere to hide, no gimmicks on the plate yet still knowing and believing that's good enough; it's horribly difficult to achieve. At The Clove Club, it's achieved faultlessly, and seen in every dish.
First out the kitchen is radishes, black sesame & gochuchang (a Korean savoury condiment). You might wonder from the description alone how they can wow with this dish, but they do. The dish could easily fail from the very start if the radishes were less than perfection, but you're instantly sold. The plate offers contrasts, not least in the blacks, whites, yellow, red and green, an artists palette almost, while the textures you'll encounter are already visually clear (you're told you can eat the leaves too, which we do, mopping up the gochuchang). It reminds me a little of the heritage potatoes and onion ash served at L'enclume, the usually bit part radish now getting a starring role. It's quite an achievement.
The same is true throughout, the buttermilk fried chicken, already something of a signature dish, is scrumptiously divine, but offers too in its fry a light touch, you could almost believe it to be healthy. The wood pigeon sausage, served only with 'Ten Bells Ketchup' shows the aforementioned skill, brilliantly done balancing out fats, flavours and textures to produce something seemingly unique. We struggle to think of anywhere else we've posted to the blog that delivers anything similar: only Isaac's former kitchen, The Ledbury comes to mind. More food came, the standard din't once drop.
A lunch time bar menu maybe, but still a tour de force. And if The Clove Club is part of a new British food scene, the future is very bright indeed, allowing you to feel that British food is now very real, something in its own right and not merely doctored French or Mediterranean with a sprinkle of domestic influence. Vibrant, exciting, original, The Clove Club is everything we hoped it would be (and nothing we feared it might).