The Zetter Townhouse

Set in, well, a townhouse at the back of a Clerkenwell square, the Zetter Townhouse (ZTH) is a boutique hotel with a rather special bar on its ground floor.

Imagine you have a wildly eccentric, slightly posh but secretly cool great aunt – very British, though probably brought up on a tea plantation in India and later sent to finishing school in the Swiss Alps – and then imagine how she would decorate her living room, drawing room and the other reception room she occasionally uses for entertaining (remember I said she was posh). Got it? Well, this is what the ZTH bar looks like. An assault of twee paraphernalia and antique-style furniture; its quirky and fun, but a little bit smart too. You don’t go here to get paralytic. But I suspect, on occasion, if aunty’s had one too many sherries herself, you might find yourself setting the world to right over a scrabble board that you’ve so far only filled with 4 letter words, expletives and proper nouns.

I digress.

This place is mostly about the cocktails. Ones with funny names and unusual ingredients (because, remember, aunty is a bit quirky).  “Nettle Gimlet” is gin with homemade nettle cordial (sweet, very clean); “the Flintlock” contains gunpowder tea and dandelion and burdock bitters; the “Master at Arms” involved rum, port evaporation and homemade grenadine (and I liked it). “Twinkle”, “Somerset Sour”, “the Treaty of 1854” (I suspect a reference to Japan’s first Treaty with a Western nation, given the inclusion of Yuzu lemon and Kigo shochu), “Les Fleurs du Mal” (this one’s got a hint of absinthe in it) … you get the idea. This bar serves refined and clever drinks, rather than large glasses of ice pretentiously topped with rum, sugar syrup and garnished with a mint bush.

Bar food is also available. Good bar food at that.

I bowed to my Australian companions’ request for halloumi, but drew the line at their suggestions for a round of Flat Whites and a box of Tim Tams. To be fair, the chilli and lemon doused cheese was up there with the best halloumi I’ve eaten. But that’s not particularly difficult; it still squeaked against my teeth and I refuse to make a habit of eating erasers, regardless of their marinade.

I complained less when we ordered a large bowl of perfectly deep fried whitebait, and there were certainly no complaints when we set about eating this. Minimal batter, crispy, well seasoned and served simply with a wedge of lemon. Faultless. A board of charcuterie was pretty good too. You’ll get better rillettes and cured meat at, for example, Brawn. But only if you pay comparatively more for the amount provided to you; £12 for the volume and decent quality that ZTH puts on this sharing board was very fair of them, I thought.

Octopus in ink sauce with olive oil and chilli was tempting and I suspect, on the evidence of what we did have, will be done pretty nicely, should you order it. Other items are on offer too and there are some attractive sounding ‘supper bowls’ if you don’t fancy sharing.

But, for me, absolute bestest of the food served at the ZTH, and what you must have when you go, were the deep fried and anchovy stuffed green olives. Awesome. Little golden nuggets of flavour. I could eat these with every drink from now until forever and not get bored.  Really really great.

I would recommend the Zetter Townhouse for a date, for a civilised pre dinner aperitif, or a hazy post dinner night cap. I’d also happily rinse the corporate Amex there (they’ve a nice looking private room), provided my colleagues and clients aren’t too straight laced (so that’s probably not an option, then). What else? I’d love to host the Whiff Waff World Championships in the Games room (given ping pong was born on the dining tables of Great Britain, there should be no surprise that there is a table tennis room in aunty’s basement – see you there, Boris), I’d send my parents there to stay, heck, if I was immoral or in a relationship (neither of which I am), I’d see it as a great spot to whet my whistle before heading up to one of the bedrooms for a night of extra marital passion*. Good place, the ZTH.

The Zetter Townhouse in 3 words

Quirky. Characterful. Quality.

The Bill

£8.50 per cocktail. A select wine and beer list is cheaper. Grazing stuff from around £4 – £12 per item. About £6 per ‘supper bowl’.

*Affairs upstairs will cost you your conscience and at least a short stay in Purgatory before Ultimate Judgement. And anyway, I doubt very much that the ZTH condones that sort of behaviour, though I haven’t asked. From the website, it looks as though more moral stays are perfectly reasonably priced. –  49/50 St John’s Square, EC1 4JJ – 020 7324 4567