All new restaurants have a theme these days. It’s the law. “Inspired by their travels round the Levant”; “evoking the atmosphere of a South American churrascaria”; “after four years cooking on the moon, chef X is back in London, using the techniques he learned in Space to get the most from our Capital’s terroir”. You know, that kind of bollocks.
Imagine just opening a restaurant and cooking food that you think is quite nice, pretty well? I know, I know, it’ll never work. What, after all, would they write in the press release? How would social media react? Why would anyone go there if they can’t be transported out of London for two hours?
Well, the words that jumped out from a pleasingly brief note about Clipstone, a new bistro from the team behind Portland (one of whom is also in the team behind The Quality Chop House) were “neighbourhood“, “informal“, “accessible” and “peppered with global influences“. Nothing to see here. Just scran we fancy serving. Carry on with your day thank you very much.
So I went – without any real preconception as to what kind of food we’d be having, how it’d be served, and in what surroundings – and it was superb.
A corner site in the shadows of the BT Tower, Clipstone is neat and quietly stylish. The pale greys, muted browns, tiled bar area and open kitchen is contemporary without chasing fashion, grown-up without being staid. There are around 35-40 seats inside – some along a window-side counter, others aligned with a long banquette, the remainder scattered around – and the set-up makes for a chatty, convivial evening.
The menu is divided into ‘cold cuts and crudos’, ‘summer plates’ (which I’m guessing will evolve …), ‘sourdough flatbreads’, ‘larger plates’ and ‘sweets’. Looking closer, it’s difficult to draw an obvious line between, say, a plate of lardo, through cured arctic char and unripe peaches, a raspberry and tomato salad, scallop and walnut flatbread, wood pigeon with buckwheat and finally a Paris-Brest; save a chef who’s been wisely making the most of Free Movement, and that bit about just cooking good food that you like.
Two of us shared seven dishes, which was about right (both the sharing format, and the amount of food). First came a pretty plate of arctic char. The slices of lightly cured arctic char were buttery and clean, lifted by lemon zest and cut by a grassy olive oil (lemon in that too), whilst soft curls of unripe peach added fresh zip. Dots of dairy were cute aesthetically but to my mind unnecessary when eating, a little cloying, even. Good to wipe the excellent house sourdough in, though.
Next, two plates from the seasonal part of the menu, which set the standard for the rest of the meal.
Battered and deep-fried leeks with sauce gribiche were essentially crack in allium form. The batter was light and crisp, the leeks yielding, sweet and more-ish. (Sod summer. If they’re not still on in autumn there’ll be hell to pay.)
And then the most precise comfort food you’ll see, in the form of braised and grilled ox tongue, sharply cut and topped with pickled cucumber and thin slices of radish. We don’t eat enough tongue in Britain – compare our natural revulsion to the joy of, say, Mexican’s and their lengua tacos – but dishes like this one at Clipstone should convert even the most squeamish.
There’s always a danger that, outside the best pizza restaurants, chefs try too hard with flatbreads – overloading when just a dab of something sharp and cheesy works best – and I wondered whether this might happen here. However, our clam, parsley, creme fraiche and garlic flatbread was juicy, salty and flavourful, on the right side of parsimonious, and worked well as a pause between the other dishes we’d ordered. Have a look, by the way, at photos online of the scallop and walnut version and tell me you won’t be getting that when you go.
Service was classy and charming throughout the meal; aware and attentive without being intrusive. I think they missed a trick, though, by not offering clean plates as we moved on to the next course. Sharing small plates is fine. Great, in fact, when food is this good. But after a while it’s good to start afresh lest everything taste the same.
Even so, that next course was superb – a beautiful, delicate, perfect piece of plaice, shrouded in rainbow chard and drenched in a miso and dulse butter emulsion. The emulsion was finger-licking good, smooth, warming and and umami central; yet still the fish shone through. Absolutely first class. A reminder, as it happens, of a similar quality of cooking and deft touch with fish at Ellory and Lyle’s over the last year or so.
All the while we’d been glugging from their enjoyable, focused wine list, which is of note, in part, thanks to a wine on tap system which means that eight of their short selection are very fairly priced indeed. To be able to eat this well without doubling your food spend on a bottle of wine is a real treat.
Before the night was over, a couple of low[er] key but no less successful desserts in the shape of a Paris-Brest, all the noisette notes, decadent cream and enjoyable crunch; and poached apricots, amaretto crumb and mascarpone (spelling mistake on the menu, btw chaps). A sweet end to a very fine repast.
The food at Clipstone doesn’t have geographic theme or a convoluted background story, then. But there’s coherence in the conception of the menu, quality and precision in the cooking, and the “oh wow, so pretty” and “ooh, that’s amazing” that occurs with the arrival and eating of each of the dishes.
This is a cracking addition to central London and is feels incredibly accomplished already (two days in). In fact, the places immediately surges to on to my top ten or so places to eat out. My only real gripe is the current no bookings policy in the evening – which totally makes sense in that it is a place should be both informal and busy at all times, not half empty through no-shows and reserved tables, but there are few fall backs in the immediate vicinity, should your plans to visit be thwarted by the inevitable demand for seats. Still, you should go.*
Clipstone in three words
Precise, contemporary bistro
£40-60 per person.
www.clipstonerestaurant.co.uk – 5 Clipstone St, W1W 6BB – 0207 637 0871
* Postscript: on 3 August, Clipstone announced it would now be taking reservations for the evening. So no gripes, then. Get booking.