Tuesday, 17 March 2009
The Clerkenwell, 69-73 St. John Street, Clerkenwell (nearest tube Farringdon)
Toptable featured me as ‘blog of the week’ when I reviewed The Zetter, which was one of its 50% off featured restaurants. So, in a very blatant attempt at being ‘blog of the week’ again, we decided to try out The Clerkenwell which is also on the 50% off promotion (food only).
Clerkenwell is quite a funny place, as it’s very busy during the week, but during the weekends, there’s pretty much no one around, none of the shops are opened. If you’re a tourist here for the first time, you’d be under the impression that Londoners don’t do much on weekends.
I like the menu here, it’s definitely not another big menu. A leather-bound folder opens to reveal 2 pages (the entire menu) printed on cream-coloured paper, with descriptions succinct enough to let you know what the dish is without being over-detailed.
Featuring a good mixture of fish-based and meat-based dishes with a few vegetarian dishes thrown in for good measure, it took us no time at all to decide what to order.
But the chef took 1 hour 10 minutes to get the starters to us. When you’re very hungry, you start timing the chef.
But before we jump to that (and believe me, there were plenty of bread baskets between that jump) let me describe the ambience. The lighting in the restaurant was slightly dimmed, but bright enough to allow food photography so that was a plus point. With tables set far apart enough from other tables, and with quite a few tables in secluded nooks in the restaurant, I can see this place as quite a popular spot for first dates.
Once we’d placed our orders with the waiter, we were brought a portion of amuse-bouche each.
Described as an artichoke and foie gras soup by the waiter, this was a nice surprise from the restaurant. Perhaps they knew that the appetizers were going to take 1 hour 10 minutes to get to us.
It was warm and creamy, with a flavourful hint of foie gras, and there must have been some mushrooms in there as we smelled and tasted mushrooms.
1 hour 10 minutes later …
Seared scallops, aubergine pakora and curry spices £10
The scallops were fabulously done, slightly seared on the outside, and rare on the inside with just enough bite. This was nicely complemented by the slightly bland pakora, and although I believe that there was aubergine in it, I couldn’t taste any aubergine. This could have been due to the fact that aubergine is quite bland anyway, and perhaps should not have been used in a pakora. The 3 sauces or chutneys that came with the dish might have been specific to each bit of the dish, but the waiter didn’t mention anything about it, so we just mixed it up and dipped a bit of everything into it.
Game terrine, grape chutney and toasted country bread £8
I ordered this as I’d not had terrine before (despite having seen it being cooked on Come Dine With Me several times). When it arrived, I took one bite of it and the immediate impression I had was … Spam.
Now, this may seem like an insult to the game terrine, but it’s not. I like Spam (you know you secretly do too) and the reason I likened this to it was because of the texture. Taste-wise, it was salty, with lovely bits of chewy meat balanced by softer textures, and although I wasn’t sure what meat was in there, it did convince me that it was game at least.
The grape chutney was sweet and slightly sour, bril with the terrine.
Lamb broth, crispy lamb and marjoram dumplings £8.50
I didn’t taste this dish, it was ordered by another friend, but it looked like broth, was described as broth, thus would probably have taste like broth.
Saute of foie gras, salad of sun dried cranberries and hazelnuts £11
My friend who ordered this said that although it was OK, it wasn’t as nice as other foie gras he’d had before. Not being one who’s had foie gras more than twice (once in the amuse bouche and another in canapes unknowingly), I didn’t know what that meant.
He said that usually, foie gras is served with something sweet, but this was served with cranberries which is more sour than sweet.
Once we’d hoovered up the starters, we sat down to another half hour wait for the main meals. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely enjoy watching waiters go by, watching paint peel off walls, and watching the little green plant on the table sitting in its pot, but after a while, I had to ask the waiter when the main meals were coming.
He was very attentive, and returned to our table twice, each time confirming that our food was on the way.
30 minutes after the starters arrived …
Roast halibut, savoy cabbage and corned beef hash £19
This was what I had. There as a generous portion of fish here, with crispy flavourful skin on the outside and white, flakey fish on the inside, each mouthful a lovely bite. The mash potato was one of the best I’ve had, but as I’ve not had corned beef mash before, it could have been the corned beef that made such a difference. Creamy, smooth and tasty, the fish and the potato went well together.
Crisp fillet of sea bass, veloute of crab, crisp potato rosti £19
Look at these 2 slivers of sea bass. And then go up and look at that huge piece of halibut. For dishes that were priced the same, why was there such a big difference in portion sizes?
A check on a fish supplies online store showed that sea bass is priced at about £19 per kg. Halibut is priced at £20 per kg. Obviously, because this is a restaurant, I’m not saying that I’d be expecting a kilogram of fish on my plate, but why are the portion sizes so different, if the price of the fish are similar?
My friends who had this said that it was very fresh and tasty, but were feeling hungry even after the main course.
Pot roasted chicken, 'chicken and leek pie' £17
I guess it was quite presumptuous of us to have been expecting a little casserole filled with chicken pie.
When this came to the table, we tried to figure out where the pie was, and concluded that it must have been that little stack underneath the carrot. The pie was very similar to dumplings with leek and chicken in it, but as it was eaten within seconds of being served, I concluded that it must have tasted good.
The chicken was moist, and the skin was flavoured well with salt and crispy.
Spiced rump of lamb, aubergine and couscous with merguez and minted yoghurt £17
I had a taste of the lamb, which was tender. My friend who had this said that the portion was huge, and that he found it enjoyable. From what I could see, there were some sausages and big cous cous with the lamb.
Would I come back to this restaurant? Well, I knew about the place through Toptable, and with the 50% promotion, the price was very reasonable for the quality of food we had. Portion sizes differed depending on what you ordered though.
With the 50% promotion, I would come back to this place, but I’ll probably bring a book, some board games and maybe even some pre-dinner snacks along.
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