The Clove Club

On one of the wettest Saturdays in my memory of all Januarys, a leisurely lunch seemed called for to brighten our mood. Dodging the pelting raindrops, The Clove Club in Shoreditch Grade II Listed Town Hall was a welcoming haven, and where Chef Issac McHale weaves his magic that has earned him Two Michelin stars.

A short or full tasting menu is available at lunch but given that it looked as if for our later departure Noah’s transport would be the best option, the full menu was in order! A wise decision, as lunch transformed into a theatre of food – but interestingly with no stuffy atmosphere as sadly frequently does accompany a tasting menu! Although the tables a tad too close for my liking, the dining room is airy and light, everything stripped back to a pleasing understated simple elegance.

Although Dry January was not on the agenda, the aperitif menu has some delicious AF options, and given the Chef’s Scottish heritage, I was tempted into their in-house version of the classic Irn Bru (something did not imagine seeing on a two-star menu – using Tonka Beans & Coffee Beans to recreate the taste!). On the other side of the table, PJ was swayed into a glass of Preamble from Hundred Hills, an English Sparkling from Oxfordshire.

First up of the amuse bouche, and very welcome on this chilly day, Green herb broth - soothing and aromatic blend of herbs including Chervil, Tarragon, Lovage, Parsley. Cornish mackerel Sushi underlined the Chef’s approach of techniques from around the world but using local British produce – it was one perfectly executed mouthful, incredible balance of flavours. A dish filled with bushy sprigs of pine hid two perfect morsels of buttermilk fried chicken, which whilst tender and delicious, for me the pine flavour was undetectable. Lastly of the temptations from the kitchen before the main show began, a palate livener of Beetroot Gazpacho Granita.

At this point, a word about the service. Any restaurant has a challenge in balancing timings of food presentation and drink service, but with a complex tasting menu, the demand on the front of house multiplies faster than an Ischian rabbit. So, Chapeau to the team at the Clove Club – they were outstanding, resembling a well-choreographed version of Swan Lake, friendly and informative yet unobtrusive when appropriate. One key member of the team was Sommelier, Miguel Gomez, whose knowledge was superb as expected, but accompanied by a visceral passion for sharing this information, without intimidating. As we had chosen the wine paring with the menu, his wine selection was truly inspired – showcasing the unusual for all the right reasons rather than shock value.

Exquisitely pretty dish of Sea Bass Ceviche, with Rhubarb & Citrus was paired with Riesling Dom Bliskowice from Poland– yup a new wine country even for me with all the travelling around the wine world that luckily counts as my job! As expected, petrol undertones, but when combined with the rhubarb in the dish, an explosion of lime notes, touch of fennel and glorious minerality from the limestone Polish vineyards. Quirky but brilliant.

The signature dish of the Chef is his Raw Orkney Scallop, of course hand dived (should that be hand dove – always sounds odd to me either way!) and with good reason. The delicate scallop meat served with hazelnut, clementine & black truffle, with a beurre noisette was a  riot of umami, yet the most perfectly balanced wine pairing of Inocente Fino 2018 from Valdespino.  From their Single Vineyard of Macharnudo Alto and in magnum (just 6000 of them produced), which had salinity to match the scallops, yeasty toasty flavours that echoed the beurre noisette & hazelnuts – but considering the age of this sherry – the freshness was incredible.

Imagine if Jackson Pollock designed duvet covers – and the next course would be the perfect picture.  Smoked Pollock Brandade, covered with a delicate milk sheet with what looked like the artists drip technique splatters! Trompette mushrooms and a Saffron Vinaigrette completed the punchy flavour combo and needed a wine with some texture to cope - Stand up Tsolikouri Melqo from Gaioz Sopromadze in Georgia. A white wine aged in qvevri (earthenware amphorae), which combined superbly with the saffron, but not a wine that I’d enjoy without food.

Easing through from fish to meat was a dish with both – Cornish Monkfish, with laverbread, bacon & snails and wonderfully paired with Pinot Noir, A Forest from Ochota Barrels, whose vineyards are high in Australia’s Adelaide Hills. Unfiltered giving a cloudiness in the glass, but instantly on the nose a clean burst of red cherries. Delicate enough to respect the monkfish but with good Pinot earthiness to tease out the snails & bacon.

Jerusalem artichoke, a glorious ingredient, created into a cloud like mousse enveloping braised shoulder of fallow deer, truly melt in the mouth – delicious! However, a note ref the promised Pickled apple, whose acidity would have been a fabulous foil to the richness of the deer – if an ingredient is important enough to be listed on the menu – then there should be enough to find on the plate (my only small gripe of this truly incredible meal).  Classic wine pairing with this first meat course – the wonderful Lytton Springs 2019 from Ridge in Sonoma. I have a tendresse for this iconic Californian wine, as was the first wine that I tasted from the region over twenty-five years ago and the Zinfandel dominant blend (with some Petite Syrah, Mouvedre & Carignan further boosting the spicy notes) was heavenly with the deer.

Thanks to my five years living in Piemonte, the mere mention of Bagna Cauda on a menu will guarantee a smile and was a great flavour combination at The Clove Club with Rack of pork - the anchovy, garlic & porcine flavours dancing together with shameless abandon. The Return of the Inspiring Sommelier (that SO should be the title of a film!)  resulted in his choice of an alternative wine for us (the one included on the menu was one I wanted to avoid on a low pressure weather day – long story for another day over a glass of wine!). But the replacement - a real wow moment – when your eyes pop with recognition of something unexpected and delightful. Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh is a little-known appellation in the South-West of France and usually made into sweet white wine. However, the Montus Sec from Alain Broument was a revelation, a dry version from Petit Courbu & Petit Manseng varieties. Texturally was flawless pairing with the pork, and the careful oak management in aging, gives a wine with delightful layers of complexity. Will be seeking this wine out!

A cheeky palate cleanser of Grilled Habanero Granita with plum sorbet delighted PJ with its warmth of chilli playing with the cold sorbet.

I’ve been known to serve Mashed Potato as a starter (made Robuchon style with as much butter as potato, its well deserved of star billing) but potato as a pudding? My scepticism soon quashed with the arrival of a Warm Potato Mousse, Caramel Ice Cream & Coffee Meringue – just one word – divine!  Matched with a glass of 1986 Madeira, Verdelho from D’Oliveras – an exquisite wine that deserves to be served far more frequently!

Although reeling in sybaritic pleasure from such an array of flavour combinations and technical prowess – The Clove Club signed off in style with some petit fours to keep us going to for the journey home – Barley cake with orange Crème Diplomat and irresistible Chocolate Hazelnut Speculos!

Confession time - am not usually a fan of tasting menus, as frequently they are an excuse for smug kitchen showing off, and often unbalanced with a couple of great dishes hidden amongst several that create that “meh, it’s OK” reaction. But happily, I eat those words after this spectacular lunch at The Clove Club - everything combined for a wonderful experience -  a relaxed and unfussy atmosphere with  great cooking, impeccable service, and spectacular wine pairing. Truly memorable!