Chef patron Isaac McHale’s relaxed fine-dining eatery, The Clove Club, celebrates 10 years of showcasing the best of the British Isles, and it’s easy to see why it remains one of London’s finest. There’s something effortlessly chic about The Clove Club.
From the moment you ascend the steps and enter through the midnight-blue door of the Shoreditch Town Hall, the buzz of the trendy neighbourhood you were in just moments ago gives way to the calmness of the unstuffy yet utterly stylish eatery. It’s bright, light, and airy, maintaining all the best bits of its historical setting while imbuing it with a modern feel. From the subway-tiled wall of the open kitchen to the leather cushioning of the Scandi-design chairs and smaller details such as the menu folds and coasters, The Clove Club’s signature blue pops throughout, setting the scene in which a most memorable meal comes to life.
McHale, who opened the eatery after a stint at Noma and with a host of Michelin-starred experiences under his belt (including six years at The Ledbury), delivers an incredibly minimalist and elegant tasting menu. Inspired by his culinary memories and travels, his cooking, which is rooted in exemplary technique, sees dishes stripped back to their essential elements. This deceptive simplicity is expressed in a remarkable celebration of the finest British produce, from seafood to game, dairy, and organic vegetables. Each dish captures a sense of time, place, and season.
The menu begins with a series of fantastic fish dishes — the chef, who took up a Saturday job at a fishmonger at 14, is a master when it comes to ocean fare. A delicate hay-smoked Wiltshire trout is beautifully complemented with nutty textures of almond and indulgent pearls of caviar, while a raw Orkney scallop is brought to life with the sweet acidity of clementine and the rich umami of truffle and finely sliced mushroom.
Perhaps the best showcase of the chef’s expertise with fish, though, is the Cornish sardine sashimi — a cheeky twist on the classic British fish and chips and a nod to Cornwall’s fishing history — that sees the humble sardine glazed with chrysanthemum, dressed with elements of Worcestershire sauce and ginger, and served atop a potato crisp along with a deeply flavourful smoked sardine and whisky broth. It is a sensational dish.
Then it’s on to the meatier part of the menu, where the chef’s ethos remains clear and concise. The pork jowl is cleverly served alongside textures and ages of Cox’s apples — or apples in stages of decay, as per the menu. The cheek is served with components of apple cider, apple-cider vinegar, and an apple balsamic in a fabulous exercise in sweetness and acidity. The venison is equally impressive, with the game served with earthy celeriac, bitter cocoa nibs, and the subtle grandiosity of generous shavings of white truffle.
For dessert, seasonal figs are used to magnificent effect along with a coconut panna cotta and a caramelised white-chocolate disc in a dish well suited to the end of such an impressive tasting menu, delivering flavour aplenty while still being light and fresh.
The final dish, a testament to the chef’s prodigious skill and boundary-pushing concepts, is an equally light yet gloriously complex sweet-meets savoury pudding of warm potato mousse, caramel ice cream, coffee meringue, and white truffle. It shouldn’t make sense at all yet it’s utterly divine.
This, I guess, is the beauty of The Clove Club, a place where simple ingredients are presented at their most impressive, in forms both expected and unexpected. Here fine dining feels supremely relaxed, and the superb service is somehow informal and convivial. It is no wonder that, 10 years on, the restaurant is still a must-visit in London.
• From the December edition of Wanted, 2023.