For the past five years, Jason Atherton has built himself a neat little empire—a tapas bar in Singapore, a soon-to-open hotel restaurant in Sydney and, most significantly, his London flagship Pollen Street Social, for which he grabbed a Michelin star in 2011.
But no matter how prolific or far-reaching, any chef with real global goals knows that, eventually, he has to tackle New York. It’s the if-I-can-make-it final frontier, and though many international chefs go limp in the city’s pressure-cooker dining scene, Atherton stays solid by focusing on no-fuss tavern fare done well at the Clocktower, his handsome, mahogany-trimmed partnership with Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr inside the New York Edition Hotel.
There’s no toad-in-the-hole Anglicism on the menu (only imported Dover sole and upmarket fish-and-chips tip to the chef’s English heritage), but there’s a beautifully seasoned, ruby-centered skirt steak with triple-cooked chips and a gravy boat of thick béarnaise ($33), and a duteously funky dry-aged burger, laden with salty bacon, melted cheddar and Churchill sauce ($24). And the best thing on the menu isn’t even listed, a complimentary round of oven-warm, quartered sourdough with a whip of buttermilk butter.
It’s when Atherton kowtows to the room—a five-suite expanse of rock-god portraits, purple-felted pool tables and sharply bobbed diners—that things go off-kilter, with trendy gaffes like uni risotto that smacks too hard of yuzu peel ($21) and white asparagus that drowns in heady chicken-thigh jus and teeth-shattering “cornflakes.” Atherton, and the Clocktower as a whole, is better suited to craft over cool.