Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Clove Club

On a stellar trajectory and with much goodwill, the team from Upstairs at The Ten Bells have opened a second venture. The Clove Club is within the old Shoreditch Town Hall; a modern space fronting Old Street and a step change from their pub-luxe origins.

Imaginative renditions of classic cocktails and heightened service levels formalise the experience further. My companions - Chris from All Things Meaty, @scouserachel on Blonde duties and her friend Hannah, were therefore reasonably excited and hopeful.

Food comes as a five-course tasting menu for £47. Theoretically, this appears quite reasonable compared to others especially with their starry reputation. And some finer dining is certainly welcome in these parts. But as we embarked upon the meal, it quickly unravelled.

Radishes with black sesame seeds and gochuchang (Korean mayo) were dramatic enough in presentation. The premise to dip in mayo and then the sesame seeds would stick, I suppose. However the radishes weren’t particularly flavourful and the mayo even less so. I’m not sure how anything could be less Korean-tasting.

Buttermilk fried chicken thigh pieces in basket of pine needles and cones. Dainty enough, and cheap so surely a reasonable portion size? Wrong, it was absolutely miserly. Thigh is cheap too. The apparent ‘pine salt’ was absent upon tasting, so this was basically a lone bite of posh KFC popcorn chicken in a basket of Christmas tat. It tasted fine as most freshly fried chicken does, but was another (and not the last) Emperor’s New Clothes dish of the night.

Cheese Biscuits, Curd and Stems were another oddity. Take the teeniest cheese straws from an M&S wrapper, halve them again and add a dollop of admittedly tasty curd. The upside was that they looked like Frazzles; the downside was that I’d rather have had a 50p bag of those.

Onto the clanger of the night. And even with the above dishes, it did get worse. Enter stage left a massive plate of fennel, with a rancid topping of purple seaweed and the odd walnut. The fennel was steamed but with little seasoning. The seaweed wasn’t a delicate addition of marine flavour, but that of a rotten beach. Possibly with a week-old whale carcass astride it, encircled by carrion feeders and covered in bird shit.

Swiftly looking forward after our table of four unanimously decried the fennel course as ‘total bollocks’, the leek and mussels course wasn’t too different. Yes it had smoked mussels dotted about, but we could not escape the feeling that this was one massive (cheap) steamed veg plate after another. The leek was in its entirety, so the outer layer was an obstacle. For the two diners in our group not eating shellfish, some mini pickled onions were added.  Again, a disappointing show of austerity and blandness.

Rib of beef was delicious. To be clear here, I wanted to like The Clove Club. I walked in with no prejudices or grudges, and I have no ideological hipster or age issues; I probably am a hipster by varying definitions. So this isn’t a hatchet job (or a predetermined one anyway).

It genuinely was a fantastic dish. The beef was exquisitely cooked, the potato batons were fantastic although predictably sparse, and the juices were meaty and full of flavour. A larger dish of that and a rework of the menu concept would have people coming back to eat. I’d be keen to see how many return visitors they get, and how quickly the menu is rewritten.

Desserts were very good; blood orange is never a bad thing and the seasonal badge of honour remains intact. It was served alongside sheep’s milk mousse and more bloody fennel. Perhaps a cruel joke.

Another mousse (more Masterchef shenanigans) was great – ginger this time, adding some long overdue heat to the sweetness and acid from the ‘warm cider’. 

Finally there was a chicory tea cake which we were almost denied. It was given as if a freebie, although it was on the menu. To be honest, we didn’t give a fuck by this point. Speculation was rife about snacks to follow, or even a Meat Mission trip…

The meal did progressively improve, granted but if you serve a trio of starters and two terrible courses, by that point your diners are despondent and disinterested. The beef picked us back up, with some seriously tasty desserts to support that, but then the bill comes along, slaps you in the face and holds that mirror up to your mug-inscribed reflection.

We declined the offer to buy some off-menu cheese, at a hefty surcharge. Wise at this point, just like clockwork we sat back and observed pitiful portions being conveyed off to some other less sceptical mugs. Nothing more than upselling.

I have no idea what this was. Experimentation? Kitchen skills A-Z? A midnight allotment ransacking? I don’t need a concept or direction (although I’m sure some abstract nonsense exists in a PR somewhere) – but I didn’t understand this at all, and some cohesion would provide some context. There was no zing, or spice, or richness, or seasoning, or frankly any excitement in any way.

The clientele, haircuts and tailoring are not what’s wrong with this place, nor is the space or technique. It’s the onanistic boys’ club menu concerned more with culinary adventures than with taste. 

Service - 7/10 
Tap water tales5/10 (filtered charged nominally, but sparkling too) 
Staff Hotness8/10 - our watiress was pretty and friendly. Front of house and bar staff are very natty. 

The Clove Club on Urbanspoon

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