26 Reasons to Visit The Clove Club

  1. It is the 26th best restaurant in the world.
  2. A tried and tested concept. It began as a supperclub by the Young Turks above the Ten Bells pub in East London.
  3. Isaac McHale. The Scottish-born Head Chef has obviously learnt a thing or two from stints at The Ledbury, Noma, and with Tom Aikens.
  4. The Michelin Star. Received within only its first year of opening, and still holding on.
  5. No white linens. Despite the lofty status, the vibe is significantly less stuffy than similarly esteemed fine-dining rooms.  
  6. It is cool. Housed in Shoreditch Town Hall, having ceased to be a home for local government during the 1960s it is also a popular arts and events space. Very Shoreditch.
  7. Pay up front. The restaurant was one of the first restaurants in the UK to adopt a ticketing system, with reservations paid for in advance to reduce the dreaded no-shows.
  8. Luca. The team have already propelled their success into a second venture; a well-designed, all-day Italian eatery in Clerkenwell with a focus on pasta.   
  9. The meat room. As you enter Clove Club, you can see where its chefs cure their own meat. No sidestepping any effort here.

    Clove Club

    House cures

  10. Birthday card. Before even looking at the food, I was presented with a birthday card from the restaurant. A lovely touch to acknowledge a special occasion.  
  11. The ingredients. Menus change daily, but one thing you can be sure of is that that the focus will be on British produce (with a global flair).
  12. 5 courses. Or 9 if you’re really hungry. Though it is a set tasting menu, the chefs cater for a whole host of dietary requirements, from vegetarian, gluten-free and halal.
  13. Snacks. Honestly they each merit their own point but that would ruin my format. Delicious morsels individually presented; beetroot granita, crab canapés served on a spider crab shell, buttermilk fried chicken (that I’ll one day write a special ode to) presented on a bed of pine needles to accentuate the pine salt, and a haggis doughnut boxed like a pearl. 

  14. Cocktails. Rarely do I order a dinner with a stream of cocktails rather than wine but the care taken for these concoctions was almost on par with the food. House infusions, unexpected elixir combinations, thoughtful garnishes.   

  15. Hay smoked trout tartare, Jersey Royal and Sansho. Raw, in my humble opinion, is the best way to feature an excellent piece of fish. An ideal substitute for salmon, the trout was served alongside a creamy foam and matchstick chips for a balanced texture.

    Clove Club

    Hay Smoked Trout Tartare ~Jersey Royal ~ Sansho

  16. Extra birthday course. Spring Herb and smoked herring broth with dumpling. Excuse the photo, I was getting mildly overwhelmed.

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    Smoked Herring ~ Spring Herb ~  Dumpling

  17. Bread and butter. Never on the menu, always on the table. House-baked sourdough of course.

    Clove Club

    Sourdough ~ Butter

  18. Hazelwood grilled pollock, grelot onion, cinnamon & curry leaf. Delicately spiced, this dish showcases the sustainable fish in a more compelling manner than a normal ‘modern British’ establishment.

    Clove club

    Hazelwood grilled pollock ~ Grelot Onion ~ Cinnamon & Curry Leaf

  19. 100 day old Lincolnshire Chicken, creamed potato, morels & Ramson. As well as alluding to the welfare of the poultry, this dish also demonstrates a nose-to-tail approach to cooking, artistically plated were several cuts of chicken, a heart at centre stage.

    Clove Club

    100 day Old Lincolnshire Chicken ~ Creamed Potato ~ Morels & Ramson

  20. Service that’s not in your face. Corresponding to the decor, waiters don’t ask you if everything is ok every five seconds. You are free to dine at your own pace and enjoy the company of your companion(s) without interruption.
  21. Wild fennel granita, warm blood orange, ewe’s milk mousse. A savoury dessert course, my favourite kind.

    Clove Club

    Wild fennel granita, warm blood orange, ewe’s milk mousse

  22. Loquat sorbet, loquat kernel ice cream & puffed amaranth. Slightly outside the otherwise seasonal menu but suitably foodie enough to make a dining companion Google more than one element of a dish.
    Clove Club

    Loquat Sorbet ~ Loquat Kernel Ice Cream & Puffed Amaranth.

     

  23. A trio of petit fours. A sponge, a chocolate and boozy sweet dedicated to Fergus Henderson and St John.
  24. Extra chocolate. Yet another birthday treat. Spoilt.

    Clove Club

    Birthday Chocolate

  25. More than you bargain for. Though we only only selected 5 courses, I counted 14 different dishes with all the pre and post bites.  
  26. A special occasion. Not an everyday meal but it is worth the £75 a head for dinner, especially if you convince a friend to take you as a present.

The Test Kitchen

We took a trip to The Test Kitchen in Soho to put chef Adam Simmonds’ year long pop-up to the test. The premise of the restaurant is for Adam Simmonds to trial out new flavour combinations, cooking techniques and ingredients in preparation for his permanent restaurant.

The Test Kitchen

The Test Kitchen

Situated in the unit previously occupied by Barrafina on Frith Street, The Test Kitchen is an L-shaped dining room where all the seats are on the pass so you can see the chefs preparing and plating your food. The back wall is one long mirror where the chefs have scribbled down their ideas for dishes, a huge list of ingredients, and a portrait of the head chef himself.

Idea Wall

Idea Wall

The menu consists of a number of small vegetarian, meat or fish dishes; the waiter recommends around four each, which, when you work it out, is nearly everything on the menu. Instead we decide to go for two of the vegetarian, including the highly recommended salt-baked swede, two fish and three meat options. We also decide to go for a glass of wine each; in a surprising twist, our waiter allowed us to try each of the wines by the glass before making a decision.

The Menu

The Menu

Our vegetarian dishes arrived first; salt-baked swede with cocoa nibs and Ticklemore goat’s cheese, and almond tofu with peas and thyme oil. Always on the look out for a tofu dish that makes us like the stuff; our decision to order it was a risk. The result: worth it. Yes, the texture of tofu is gelatinous and not to everyone’s taste, but the flavour of the almond tofu was sweet yet subtle; the bold thyme oil and peas cut through the sweetness and the whole dish worked brilliantly.

Almond tofu ~ Morels ~ Peas ~ Thyme oil

Almond tofu ~ Morels ~ Peas ~ Thyme oil

The waiter-recommended salt-baked swede was really nice, although the cocoa nib purée was extremely rich. The idea of the blackberries was clearly to provide a sweet, fruity contrast to the richness, unfortunately it didn’t come through. We both agreed that a bigger dish of this would have been hard to finish.

Salt-baked swede ~ Cocoa nibs ~ Goat's cheese

Salt-baked swede ~ Cocoa nibs ~ Goat’s cheese

Fish next; the scallop dish was inspired by Japanese flavours and came with cubes of Nashi pear and in a dashi broth. The dashi was lovely and fragrant and the scallop was perfectly cooked, although the delicate sweet flavour of the scallop did get lost in the dish and the pear didn’t contribute much either.

Scallop ~ Nashi pear ~ Dashi

Scallop ~ Nashi pear ~ Dashi

Our favourite dish of the night was the cured red mullet with fresh almonds and green tomatoes. The dish looked stunning and tasted amazing. Curing fish is one of the best ways to eat fish in our opinion, and this didn’t disappoint.

Red Mullet ~ Green tomatoes ~ Fresh almonds

Red Mullet ~ Green tomatoes ~ Fresh almonds

We thoroughly enjoyed every meat dish. The veal sweetbreads were a real standout; they were cooked perfectly and came with that wonderful ingredient, black garlic.

Veal sweetbreads ~ Black garlic ~ Broccoli

Veal sweetbreads ~ Black garlic ~ Broccoli

The lamb dish came with two different cuts of meat; one tender and juicy, the other fell apart like butter. The giant stalks of the king oyster mushrooms and the salsify crisps provided contrasting textures. A small dish of quail with lardo and English asparagus made up our last dish.

Lamb ~ Salsify ~ King oyster mushroom

Lamb ~ Salsify ~ King oyster mushroom

Having eaten our way through seven dishes, we felt we still had room for another dish. Although the desserts sounded lovely, we felt like going against the grain. While we decided what to order, we thought we’d get the oyster dish to see us through. Wonderful salty oyster, with the most fragrant cucumber soup and caviar cleared our heads. In the end, we decided to end with the night in true European style with the cheese course.

Oyster ~ Oscietra caviar ~ Cucumber

Oyster ~ Oscietra caviar ~ Cucumber

We have to admit, we had to Google what the cheese course was. Tomme Des Prairies Du Fouzon; a soft, mould-ripened goat’s cheese from the Fouzon area in France. As cheese fanatics, this was the highlight of the night. It came with a beautiful pineapple purée and a tapioca crisp with a rosemary oil that really made the dish come alive.

Tomme Des Prairies Du Fouzon ~ Tapioca ~ Pineapple

Tomme Des Prairies Du Fouzon ~ Tapioca ~ Pineapple

So why did we go? To sample an evolving menu from a chef who came to our attention through Great British Menu.

The idea for the restaurant sounds intriguing, and the idea of being a guinea pig for these dishes was very appealing to us. We really enjoyed the food although some dishes worked much better than others, but that is the point of the pop-up after all, to test combinations out. The bill at the end was pretty steep, considering that we are helping the chefs to design their fool-proof restaurant menu – if you are wondering how you are asked to give feedback on your experience, a form is emailed to you after your visit. With all this in mind though, we will definitely be wanting to make a return trip at some point before the year is out to see how the menu progresses.

It is also worth mentioning that our visit came the day after a less-than glowing review of The Test Kitchen was published.  Our experience was the polar opposite of this particular reviewer, which in our minds, highlights the importance of coming to your own conclusions over restaurants. The lesson here: live your own experiences, not someone else’s.

The Greenhouse

The List of 12 Michelin Star restaurants consists of a selection of one, two and three star restaurants, ranging in prices and cuisines. Each restaurant has been picked for a specific reason with the ultimate aim of hopefully experiencing some of the best food in the world, as well as trying to work out for ourselves what makes a Michelin Star restaurant. The second addition to our list is The Greenhouse in Mayfair.

The main reason for my choice of The Greenhouse for The List, was as the restaurant of choice to celebrate my boyfriend’s 25th birthday. The Greenhouse is a Two Star Michelin restaurant in London’s rather expensive area of Mayfair. The restaurant is presided over by chef Arnoud Bignon; a classically trained French chef who started his career at the age of 15 in Paris.

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When you arrive at The Greenhouse, a beautiful oasis of leafy decking paves the way to the front door. The low lit dining room offers a wonderfully romantic setting, and, in complete contrast to Dabbous, white linen table cloths are present in abundance. The champagne trolley is wheeled over as soon as we take our seats, I order us a glass each of the ‘La Salamandre’ as we have a look over the menu. As it is a special occasion, we go for the tasting menu at a cool £130 each.

Seaweed Butter

Seaweed Butter

First up, we have the canapé selection; spherified shellfish bisque, and crispy chicken skin. The warm bread comes with a choice of seaweed or hand churned butter, with sea salt on the side.

Crispy chicken skin ~ Shellfish bisque

Crispy chicken skin ~ Shellfish bisque

The amuse bouche is put down in front of us; “egg fried rice” we’re told.

Egg Fried Rice

Egg Fried Rice

Well, it’s safe to say that this was like no egg fried rice I’ve ever had before. The rice was crispy and had been puffed up; a soy sauce sorbet sat on top of the light coriander dressing. Delicious.

The first course on the tasting menu was King crab, served with a velvety smooth celeriac purée and topped with a citrus gel.

King crab ~ Celeriac puree

King crab ~ Celeriac puree

An extremely rich and indulgent course of foie gras followed, served with a micro salad of herbs and leaves. While I do have my reservations about eating foie gras, I put them aside for this meal and really did enjoy the course.

Foie gras ~ Micro salad

Foie gras ~ Micro salad

Salsify tagliatelle followed and offered a fresh and clean almost palette-cleanser like contrast to the rich foie gras. Although not much of a looker, the pasta-inspired dish was refreshing and came dressed in a delicate halzelnut oil.

Salsify tagliatelle ~ Hazelnut

Salsify tagliatelle ~ Hazelnut

As expected of a Two Star menu, lobster graced our table next. The lightly poached white meat came with a beetroot consommé and roasted beetroot. While the lobster meat was sweet and tender, we didn’t feel that the beetroot quite complemented it but it tasted deliciously earthy on its own.

Lobster ~ Beetroot

Lobster ~ Beetroot

My personal favourite course came next; monkfish, sorrel purée and bottarga. This was my first experience of bottarga, salted cured fish roe, and it was fantastic. The couple of thin slices added a salty contrast the deep, earthy sorrel purée; the meatiness of the monkfish more than capable of carrying both flavours.

Monkfish ~ Sorrel ~ Bottarga

Monkfish ~ Sorrel ~ Bottarga

The final savoury course was lamb rump served with aubergine two ways; miso marinated and smokey purée. Lamb and aubergine is a classic combination and this dish was no exception, the smokey and sweet flavours of the aubergine perfectly pairing with the pink lamb.

Lamb ~ Aubergine

Lamb ~ Aubergine

A pre-dessert of sweetcorn sorbet topped with popped corn cleansed the palette before the dessert; a chocolate and yuzu combination with a mint granita. A selection of chocolate petit fours closed the show.

Chocolate ~ Yuzu ~ Mint

Chocolate ~ Yuzu ~ Mint

So what did we think? Well it was certainly a meal to remember and for a number of reasons. The food was delicious and the staff did everything they could to make our visit special, including presenting the birthday boy with an exquisitely decorated birthday plate. This was by far and away the most expensive meal I have ever had, and it was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime visit, but was it worth it? I would have to say yes, although I wouldn’t say it was the best meal I have ever eaten. We tried some ingredients we’d never had before and tasted some innovative combinations.

What makes The Greenhouse a Two Star Michelin restaurant? There’s a joke that goes around that says the only difference between a One and Two star restaurant is the white table cloths; well I wouldn’t say that here. The difference between here and Dabbous can be seen in the type of ingredients on offer; foie gras, lobster, bottarga. There is no emphasis on the sourcing of ingredients, only the finest ingredients are good enough. The cooking is of the same high standard, but the service goes above and beyond. Finally, the wine list sets The Greenhouse apart. The sommelier had an infinite knowledge of the wines on offer which was amazing considering the ‘list’ was the size of an epic novel.

 

Trawler Trash

There’s a new restaurant in Islington that is looking to tackle (please excuse the pun) one of the biggest sustainability issues in fishing: by-catch. The name Trawler Trash may not conjure images of beautiful fish and shellfish, but the premise behind the name is very laudable. Out of every haul of fish caught, approximately 15-20% never makes it to the table mainly due to people not being familiar with the species and not willing to buy it. Trawler Trash say they are trying to change this mindset by purchasing wasted fish and encouraging people to try new things.

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Trawler Trash

Now, not to put a downer on any of the above, but the GettingFeta team and chosen company for this dinner know a thing or two about sustainability in the restaurant industry. Having read all the hype surrounding Trawler Trash and watched the video explaining the concept on the website, expectations were high; what amazing under-used species were we going to see on the menu?

Well, as it turned out, not much that you couldn’t find on a large number of restaurant menus across the country. The presence of an eel dish was quite worrying considering this is a critically endangered species.

But to the food:

The menu offers 10 small plates designed to share, a handful of main courses and, of course, oysters to start, which, of course, we ordered.

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Jersey Oysters

To accompany these fine Jersey oysters, we chose charred cuttlefish, air-dried charred octopus, spiced potted clams, Loch Etive smoked trout, and a token vegetable dish of seasonal asparagus.

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Small Plates

The food was delicious although the presentation didn’t quite live up to the flavour delivered by each dish. The potted clams stood out for me; buttery doesn’t even come close to describing the texture of this dish. Having only really ever seen potted crab or shrimp on menus before, this was a delicious discovery for me.

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Potted clams ~ Rye Bread

The notoriously difficult-to-tenderize octopus was as tender as you can get, and married perfectly with green tomatoes and a hint of chili, although presentation was a bit of a let down again. The charred cuttlefish dish was tasty but was sadly hidden under the vegetable accompaniments, and in my eyes, too similar to the octopus dish to really stand out.

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Octopus ~ Green tomatoes ~ Chili

By far the most attractive looking plate was the Loch Etive smoked trout. Although salmon may be one of my all-time favourite ingredients, it was great to see trout on the menu which is just as flavoursome but used so sparingly in comparison. Fair warning though, if you do order this dish the wasabi accompaniment is HOT, and I mean HOT! Don’t try and show off with a big mouthful because you will just end up in tears.

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Loch Etive smoked trout ~ Wasabi

Having decided to share everything, our party of four decided to add the main course of cider mussels and the beer battered coley to our order. Our original choice of the ‘Trash Pie’ had unfortunately already sold out at 6.30pm on a Wednesday, so advice is to get in early if you want free reign of the whole menu.

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Cider mussels ~ Apple ~ Parsley ~ Clotted cream

Both main courses were cooked well and tasted great, although were nothing particularly special. It was sad to see that the mussels had not been cleaned; most of the shells had the white barnacles still attached which let the dish down.

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Toast Ale battered coley ~ Chips ~ Crushed peas ~ Tartare

So, why did we go? Well sustainability in the restaurant industry is of particular importance to us here at GettingFeta, having both worked in this area of the industry. The announcement of a restaurant claiming to be selling sustainable fish and seafood was an absolute must for us. Also, despite being an island, we seem to be pretty poor at serving and cooking decent fish and seafood in restaurants which instinctively makes me want to champion restaurants such as this one.

What did we think? The restaurant is beautifully decorated and the food was delicious; I could have happily tucked into all the small dishes on the menu given the opportunity. It was also nice to see the menu highlight the use of Toast Ale in the battered coley –  a beer made from surplus bread. The downside with regards to the restaurant itself was really just the service, which was painfully slow.

In terms of sustainability; I’m not convinced. Yes the premise sounds great; using up the by-catch so it is not wasted, but having a static menu with a critically endangered species on it cannot possibly be considered sustainable. It would have been nice to have been given some further information on this aspect of the menu, or have had the waiting staff explain it to us, but no such information materialised. But, the basic fact of the matter is this: trawling can never be considered a sustainable method of fishing.

Isaac At

Eating ‘local’ has become one of those buzz words over the last few years; as sustainability in the restaurant industry becomes more and more important, chefs are looking to showcase their local larder and to eat the seasons. Cue lunch at Isaac At in Brighton.

Potentially the smallest restaurant I have ever been to, Isaac At embodies local food, British drinks and seasonal produce. The talented team comprises three chefs, an expert sommelier and one waiter; all of who are in their early twenties (sickening, isn’t it?).

A scroll sits in each diners place. Inside is the set menu of the day, the drinks list, and a food menu, which lists each ingredient and the distance sourced from the restaurant.

Set Menu ~ Ridgeview

Set Menu ~ Ridgeview

We start with a glass of Ridgeview and freshly made bread; caramelised shallot and a treacle loaf. While enjoying the hot, buttery bakes, we watched our starters being plated on the television screen in one corner of the dining room.

Handmade butter ~ Caramelised shallot ~ Treacle

Handmade butter ~ Caramelised shallot ~ Treacle

As it is May, asparagus is of course, our first course. Finely sliced and dressed in a hazlenut oil, it is served with a foam of egg yolk. An unusual way of presenting both elements, the flavours complemented each other perfectly, although the foam had collapsed by the time it reached us – but this is the risk you run when using foams.

Asparagus ~ Egg yolk ~ Halzelnut

Asparagus ~ Egg yolk ~ Halzelnut

Next came one of favourite fishes; John Dory. Hardly ever seen on menus, get it when you see it. Similar to monkfish in terms of being a meaty fish, John Dory is a delicately sweet white fish. It came with the silkiest celeriac purée, sea purslane and parsley oil. Light and delicious, every element worked beautifully together.

John Dory ~ Celeriac ~ Sea purslane ~ Parsley oil

John Dory ~ Celeriac ~ Sea purslane ~ Parsley oil

A main course of lamb chump, smoked baba ganoush (aubergine) and fragrant coriander followed. While this dish was delicious, the red wine pairing with this course made it. The wine was an organic Regent-Rondo from Sedlescombe, poured from one of the most beautiful decanters I have ever seen. The slightly smokey notes of this wine really brought out the flavour of the baba ganoush.

Lamb ~ Aubergine ~ Coriander

Lamb ~ Aubergine ~ Coriander

The dessert was another winner; Alexander Bud ice cream with dehydrated cherry tomatoes, puff pastry and a rhubarb soup. Alexander Bud is a plant similar to Cow Parsley and an ingredient I have never come across before. The flavour gave the dish a more savoury edge which allowed the sweet rhubarb soup to cut through it, helped by the rehydrated cherry tomatoes.

Alexander Bud ~ Tomatoes ~ Rhubarb

Alexander Bud ~ Tomatoes ~ Rhubarb

Lunch was truly enjoyable; the flavours were clean and the cooking was simple and certainly showcased some original ideas. The focus on local produce is always a lovely thing to see, but what was particularly nice here was the focus on lesser-known ingredients, such as the Alexander Bud. It really brought to light how little we see our native ingredients in restaurants. With a menu that changes weekly, a trip to Brighton can only be made better by a visit to Isaac At.

Dabbous

Having finally made the big move to London, I decided that I would create a list of 12 Michelin Star restaurants that I would eat my way through over a period of 24 months. The List (as it shall be known as from now on) is a selection of one, two and three star restaurants, ranging in prices and cuisines. Each restaurant has been picked for a specific reason with the ultimate aim of hopefully experiencing some of the best food in the world, as well as trying to work out for ourselves what makes a Michelin Star restaurant.  We kick things off, with Dabbous.

Let’s start with the big question: why Dabbous? Well, for starters, it has one of the best value restaurant menus that you could hope to find in London’s swanky Fitzrovia district, not to mention the fact that this place is the proud owner of one Michelin Star.

Five stars from London Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler within the first two weeks of its opening in 2012 saw chef Ollie Dabbous become one of the hottest chefs around. Several years later, what caught my eye when selecting ‘The List’ was the attention this chef pays to the sourcing of ingredients. Growing herbs indoors and at home; this is a true take on the local sourcing trend that we have seen gaining popularity in recent years.   

News reached us at the end of February, however, that Dabbous is to close its doors for the very last time in June this year. Cue, panic booking for a table as soon as we could find the time to fit it in.

Walking into Dabbous, you would have no idea that this restaurant has carried a Michelin Star for 5 years. If you’re seeking out white tablecloths, this is perhaps not the place for you. Rough around the edges it may seem to some; exposed brickwork and a lot of wrought-iron. Personally though, I found this to be a nice reprieve from your standard restaurant decor. While enjoying a cocktail downstairs in Oskar’s Bar, we opted for the four-course set dinner menu over the tasting menu, for a not-unreasonable £64 per head.

Sesame Rollin' ~ The hunt for red Octoberfest

Sesame Rollin’ ~ The hunt for red Octoberfest

At the table, the standard restaurant offering of bread was presented to us in a brown paper bag, stamped with the date and logo. Huge green olives were also provided alongside a beautifully sculpted piece of butter worthy of a photo.

Sea salt butter ~ Olives

Sea salt butter ~ Olives

Our first course, grelot onions (otherwise known as pearl onions) was sensational. The onions had been dressed with a light and fruity infusion, topped with Marigold leaf; a herb with a distinctive curry flavour that I had not come across before.

Grelot onions ~ Pistachio ~ Marigold leaf

Grelot onions ~ Pistachio ~ Marigold leaf

The fish course, a delicate broth of monkfish, mussels and cucumber, was the standout dish in my eyes. Beautifully presented with the most perfectly cooked mussels that I have ever had the good fortune to eat.

Monkfish broth ~ Mussels ~ Cucumber ~ Lovage

Monkfish broth ~ Mussels ~ Cucumber ~ Lovage

A simple but delicious main course of barbecued short rib of beef with roasted leek followed; an orange blossom doughnut closed the show.

Doughnut Dabbous

Orange blossom doughnut

So, was it worthy of The List? Absolutely. There is no question that sometimes the best cooking really is the simplest. Each course was wonderfully thought out; the presentation was simple but beautiful, and I loved the fact that there were never more than three or four ingredients on a plate. Nothing about Dabbous is uptight and stuffy, from the decor to the staff, it was a fantastic dining experience that I wish I could enjoy time and time again. In terms of value for money, £64 per head may not exactly sound cheap, but for a one Michelin Star restaurant, I think you would have a hard time beating it.

Would I go back again? In a heartbeat… if it wasn’t closing in June. However, fear not. If this has got you itching to try Dabbous, then you will still be able to taste Ollie Dabbous’ fantastic culinary creations as he opens the doors of his new restaurant ‘Henrietta’ at the Henrietta Hotel in Covent Garden today.

Finally, what makes Dabbous a Michelin Star restaurant? A difficult one considering no one really knows what the criteria is. The Michelin Guide aims to celebrate everything incredible about food and drink, and in my eyes, Ollie Dabbous lets the food speak for itself. The food is not messed around with and the flavours are just incredible; and I love the fact that this chef grows his own herbs to use in cooking. It’s exciting food but the kind you could go back again and again for, not a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Also, there’s no need to take out a loan for a trip here.

#Rawmen

A steaming bowl of noodle soup is comfort in a bowl. At least, it is for me. From the packets of instant ‘tom yum’ flavoured noodles that sustained me as a student to the fragrant pho I truly believe healed a plaguing winter flu last year. The combination of hot broth and silky noodles, with the added benefit of some socially acceptable slurping, has fortuitously also gained traction on the London dining scene.

Fresh from a trip to Japan, Chef Adam Rawson (aka Chef of the Year at the Young British Foodies awards 2015) has brought the secrets of the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ to Islington. Popping up for two weeks only in private dining space ‘The Brewery Below’, the basement of a wine shop on Essex Road adorned in paper sakura flowers, is #Rawmen.

Ceiling

#Rawmen

The meal began with two starters, lightly pickled sliced cucumber tsukemono (Japanese preserved vegetables) sprinkled with sesame and bathing in ponzu, along with chicken karaage served with yuzu mayonnaise providing a tangy creamy accompaniment to the fried nuggets.

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Cucumber Tsukemono ~ Chicken Karaage

The choice for the main event was either a vegetarian soy-based Shoyu Miso Ramen  or  Hakata Ramen. Pursuing pig on pig, I opted for the latter. Topped with slices of tender roast pork, the fat melted into the creamy 18-hour pork bone broth next to strips of oyster mushrooms, nori, onsen (slow cooked) egg, black garlic oil, spring onion, corn and sesame. And of course, the bundle of noodles supporting the show.

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18-hour Pork Bone Hakata Ramen

Servers recommended incorporating the sides of preserved beansprouts, pickled garlic, mustard greens and sesame into the noodles halfway through the meal for a second hit of flavour.

Pickled ginger ~ Beansprouts ~ Mustard greens

Pickled ginger ~ Beansprouts ~ Mustard greens

The meal ended with the much-loved milk cheesecake from Adam’s sold out Sakura dinner, topped with shiso leaf and french style flaky pastry.

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Milk Cheesecake

As all the diners have pre-paid for the set menu and have an allocated dining time, service is incredibly efficient. I was surprised to have wolfed down all the dishes (and a glass of Prosecco) in just over an hour. Though we didn’t sample any further beverages, sake and cocktails were available to purchase on the night.

What? Noodles in an underground micro-brewery from an award winning chef.

When? Thursday 20th – Saturday 22nd April 2017

Where? Brewery Below, Borough Wines and Beers, 344 Essex Road, London, N1 3PD

How much? £25 for 3 courses

 

Test Kitchen Tuesday at Craft London, Greenwich

Ever wanted to trial the latest innovations from one of the hottest chefs in town? Step right up ‘Test Kitchen Tuesdays’ from Stevie Parle; the man behind Dock Kitchen and Rotorino. A blind tasting menu of up to 6 dishes is served up every Tuesday using seasonal ingredients and experimenting with new cooking techniques – all for just £28 per head.  

A stone’s throw away from the O2, Craft London provides a 360 degree view of Greenwich Peninsula. Passing the in-house roastery on the way in, the interior follows a definite British focus, showcasing Scottish tweed, British limestone and London designed furniture and lighting. The cocktails in the upstairs bar follow suit; local honey and beers detailing the producers on the menu.

Cocktails

Cocktails

The whole experience revolves around the premise of being ‘tried and tested’. Diners are actively encouraged to write feedback and evaluate each dish to help refine them. It’s a chance to be part of the creation of courses that will eventually end up on the main menu.

Although the menu changes weekly, the British and seasonal produce are a constant feature. Our blind tasting starts with bread made in house, and went on to use asparagus, wild garlic and Jersey Royals. 

Crab ~ Jersey Royals

Crab ~ Jersey Royals ~ Sorrel

It further showcased the kitchen’s capabilities with perfectly brined scallops, burnt hay and tender cubes of ox tongue.

Ox tongue ~ Burnt hay

Ox tongue ~ Spinach ~ Egg ~ Elderberry

Of course, the point here is to point out the bad with the good. A few dishes were unbalanced in plating: an unnecessarily large Red Rooster crisp overshadowing delicately brined scallops, tomato water not delivering any added flavour, and heavy handed on salt spread across courses. Though, in general, a generally light composition of dishes matched the time of year – a real show of Spring.

Brined scallops ~ Tomato water ~ Red Rooster crisp

Brined scallops ~ Turnip ~ Tomato water ~ Red Rooster crisp

Why go? Be part of menu development, 6 courses for a very reasonable price

Who to bring? A non-fussy foodie date

Is it worth the trip?  So affordable, great cooking and right near a tube stop

Etch. by Steven Edwards

Avid followers of Masterchef may immediately recognise the name Steven Edwards as the winner of the 6th Professional series of Masterchef in 2013. For those more familiar with BBC’s Great British Menu, Steven Edwards once worked under contender Matt Gillan who, until recently, presided over Michelin starred The Pass at South Lodge Hotel.

I fondly recall this particular series of Masterchef: The Professionals as having been one of the most interesting and hotly-contested series ever. The trip to Osteria Francescana can be remembered for fellow contestant Adam Handling’s complete bewilderment at the concept of Massimo Bottura’s now world-renown “Oops, I dropped the lemon tart!” dish.

However, I digress.

Our trip to Steven’s first restaurant was hotly anticipated, not merely because of the above. We walked into the restaurant in Hove (actually) around 12.30 to be met with friendly staff and some seriously upbeat music. We were offered a glass of something sparkly to start our ‘journey’ as it was put to us; two glasses of Nyetimber and an apple juice for the driver were swiftly sent over.

Onto the ‘journey’, or to put it in more colloquial terms, the menu. Etch only offers tasting menus; I love this concept; given the choice, I always opt for a tasting menu as I see it as a way to experience as much of the chefs’ talents as possible. An optional tailored wine flight was, of course, on offer, however the waiting staff were more than happy to allow us to pick and choose which glasses of wines we wanted to accompany different courses.

A copy of the menu that we had chosen was put down in front of us as soon as we had chosen, with strict instructions to be kept as a reminder of our ‘journey’. Turning the menu over, it was also fantastic to see details of the suppliers of Etchs’ meat, cheese, fish and vegetables.

Mushroom ~ Truffle ~ Doughnut

Mushroom ~ Truffle ~ Doughnut

The distinctive smell of truffle announced the arrival of our canapes. A mushroom-filled savoury doughnut sat on truffled cream cheese was as delightful as it sounds, while a bite-sized crostini with a delicate cheese and onion flavouring accompanied it beautifully. Glistening brioche buns were set down before us, sat on wooden boards with a stone pebble brushed with seaweed butter. Our waiter announced it as marmite brioche, much to the horror of my dad and I, who are both out-and-out haters of the stuff. However, our trepidation was not needed. The brioche was delicious; the marmite added a savoury note to the bread but its main role is actually to just promote even rising of the bun.

Marmite Brioche ~ Seaweed butter

Marmite Brioche ~ Seaweed butter

The velveltiest leek veloute arrived next. Little potato crisps adorned the top and digging into the soup revealed whole chunks of roasted leek beneath the surface. Give me a large bowl of that again any day. 

Leek ~ Jersey Royals

Leek ~ Jersey Royals

My favourite dish followed; gurnard on a bed of saffron orzo – a type of pasta.

In a break from tradition, the cheese course came before even the main course. If you know your goats cheese, you will have heard of Golden Cross. Very, very delicate for a goat’s milk cheese but one of my favourites, Steven Edwards made it into a panna cotta and dressed it with chunks of cheese, slices of apple, apple sorbet and a celery granola.

Goat's cheese ~ Apple ~ Granola

Goat’s cheese ~ Apple ~ Granola

One of my favourite meats made up the main course: pork belly with textures of broccoli, covered with a layer of crackling.

Pork ~ Broccoli

Pork ~ Broccoli

Our pre-dessert, or palate cleanser if you prefer, was the currently very trendy blood orange sorbet. A fabulously rich chocolate delice finished the meal.

Overall, what a fantastic dining experience. Having dined at Adam Handling’s ‘The Frog’ last year, I can truly appreciate how difficult picking a Masterchef winner between these two must have been. In my eyes, Etch wins over The Frog by a whisker; I love the attention to detail that Steven Edwards gives to the menu and to his suppliers. If you follow him or the restaurant on Instagram, you can see how they both champion their suppliers and the setup of the menu at Etch suggests that food is not readily wasted here; both factors getting two big thumbs up from me.

wastED

Food waste has been a hot topic as of late, from Hugh’s War on Waste showing up the supermarkets, to Evening Standard’s work with The Felix Project redistributing surplus food – there’s a conscious shift to think before binning.

Perfect timing for New York celeb chef Dan Barber to swoop in to the rooftop of Selfridges and reimagine [what is perceived as] by-products from local farmers, fishermen, suppliers and retailers. Even the furniture is made from recycled materials they’re really going the whole hog with the theme.  

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Each day, Dan shares the stove (and the Spotify playlist) with a lucky dip of renowned guest chefs. On the night I visited, we were treated to a selection of canapes by the chefs from lauded Thai restaurant Som Saa; injecting fire and fish sauce to the meal.

Everything on the menu is £15, regardless of portion size, and is designed to share. This does mean the bill ramps up, and since the majority of the food would have been thrown away, in my eyes the price you end up paying doesn’t quite add up. Though what you’re paying for here is the experience, the story and an altruistic glow.

What of the food? Unloved elements transformed into theatre.  A kale ‘tree’, part of the plant never normally eaten, towers above diner’s heads, who carefully snip away at the tastiest leaves like a gardener sampling their own delights.  

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The charcuterie board with coppa ham from pigs also fed on waste food, old bread from London’s E5 bakery served up with pickled watermelon rinds and cheddar which has started blueing. All perfectly safe to eat.

The dish with the most drama comes from a whole cod’s head served intact on a plate (eyes removed) with a side of kedgeree. You’re given utensils to dig around the head and extract the juicy flesh. It’s funny how you see cod cheeks on a menu as a prized medallion of fish, but rarely would you see people excavating through the skull on their plate in order to reach it. Gruesome though it may sound, being confronted with the fact that meat comes from an animal is an essential reminder for diners to be mindful over their consumption habits.

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The real winner for me was a beetroot burger made from leftover pulp from the cold-press juice industry; sandwiched between stale bread and served with a ketchup based on the runoff collected from the cooking and processing of beetroot. To end, a brûlée with cocoa husks and ‘rejected’ shortbread biscuits.
Admittedly things got a little hazy towards the end (wastED by name and wasted by nature), and not just because the lighting wasn’t ideal for taking photos. A captivating story behind each dish shone a light on the possibilities for food usually chucked away. Though at fifteen quid a pop for small plates served on a rooftop luxury department store, it’s likely Dan Barber is preaching to the already converted.

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