After months of waiting, Londoners finally have access to one of the most hotly anticipated restaurant openings in town. Former Ledbury chef Isaac McHale and supperclub and pop-up specialists Daniel Willis and Johnny Smith (who caused a near-frenzy with their hugely successful Upstairs at Ten Bells) have finally bitten the bullet and put down roots together in the form of The Clove Club, located in the refurbished Shoreditch Town Hall. Named after Willis and Smith’s eponymous supperclub in Dalston, the new restaurant serves an ambitious five-course menu from an open kitchen, the contents of which stands as a somewhat interesting take on British seasonal food.
We got together with chef Isaac McHale, a former member of the Young Turks and creator of the now legendary Buttermilk Fried Chicken & Pine Salt (pictured below), to get the inside track on The Clove Club, Britain’s natural larder and where in London he likes to remove the apron and enjoy dinner as a regular punter…
How has your experience been, transforming Clove Club from a dinner club series to a brick-and-mortar restaurant?
It has been nerve-racking, exhilarating and stressful and amazing. Every day.
Would you ever go back to the pop-up format, or do you think it’s over and done with?
No, that was just a means to an end. We have a restaurant and we are here to stay.
When you started looking for a venue, were you aiming for a striking setting like the Shoreditch Town Hall?
We were looking all over, Dalston, where we live, to Soho, Clerkenwell, but we took one look at the town hall and fell in love with it.
Can you give us some background on the Young Turks Club? Is the group looking to revolutionise British cooking?
We didn’t want to revolutionise British cooking, just push ‘British food’ as cooked in restaurants in a different direction. We had all worked in Michelin starred kitchens, had good knowledge and technique, but wanted to do something slightly different to the French, fine dining-led food that was out there.
Why have you chosen to adopt the tasting menu format for Clove Club?
It’s a nice way to work, serving a few things that are at their absolute best in season right now. We also have a bar menu of a la carte sharing dishes, so you aren’t restricted to the long menu format.
After working at Noma, would you say your cooking’s been strongly influenced by New Nordic techniques?
I think I was very much influenced by the attitude there at Noma. Rene is very engaging, talking with staff and stagieres from all countries and genuinely interested in what you have to say. The approach to developing and moving forward and trying new things was very inspiring.
For someone who works with so much fresh and local produce, what do you think makes Britain’s natural larder so special?
We are an old country, with a rich heritage of amazing natural products and stories accompanying them. We have some of the best produce in the entire world right here. It’s just not appreciated as much as it should be.
When you’re cooking just for you, what’s your ultimate simple comfort food?
I love rice. Pilaf or biryani on a cold rainy night, is great one-pot comfort food.
What’s the one current dining trend you’d like to see banished forever?
Endless burger places. I love a burger, but give it a rest please guys.
Which chef, active today, would you most like to work alongside?
When you’re not busy working away at The Clove Club, where do you go for great food in London?