It can sometimes be hard to know if a restaurant is trying to make food that you will savour and enjoy, or is simply creating dishes to feed the Instagram craze. Taking no chances, Shoreditch’s Clove Club is doing both.
The Clove Club’s menu is a masterpiece of contemporary aspirations. With a no-choice list of nine courses, there’s no possibility of a fashion faux pas when ordering. This daily-changing menu is economically worded. It describes a succession of small plates: dishes which are seasonal, that champion British produce, yet are oddly esoteric. It is both accessible and obscurantist.
The menu’s ‘Radishes, sesame and gochuchang’ only contained gochuchang – a Korean chilli paste – as a slight pink tinge to a mayonnaise dip.
Leeks were poached and slit, then smoked mussels were inserted like peas in a split pod. A spinach purée seeped from the side. The result looked disquieting, but will end up on lots of Pinterest boards.
A pattern emerged: dishes seemed destined to be photographed and talked about, possibly more than savoured. The best dishes tended to be the ones that weren’t trying quite so hard to impress. A dish of Ruby Red beef, ramson and potato comprised a generous piece of slow-cooked beef, very tender and moist; the ramson (wild garlic) was barely discernable, but it helped tick the ‘seasonal’ and ‘wild’ boxes.
Nine courses are a lot to get through, but the desserts might include another highlight: blood orange segments dried like prunes, then studded into a sheep’s milk mousse. Blood orange reappears in the same dish as a ‘fruit leather’ garnish, amid slivers of ewe’s milk cheese.
The Clove Club’s cooking is intentionally avant-garde. Everything about it screams ‘look at me’: the location, in the former Shoreditch Town Hall, the austerity of the décor, the open kitchen, and the other diners, many of them scenesters.
Yet Clove Club is above parody, mainly because what it does, it does very well indeed. Take it with a pinch of artisanal salt, because it’s one of the restaurants that will define this year.