“Then a hotshot foodie pal dragged me along for lunch at the homemade charcuterie-draped bar and I was silenced. Silenced by the gorgeousness of a dish that’s a McHale signature, buttermilk fried chicken: nuggets fit for a deity on a nest of pine twigs, the outsides crisp, the insides supple, with a fleeting fragrance from pine salt – not in an Airwick way, more a whiff of astringent woodiness. Speechless at rosy lamb with rösti on top, less proletarian potato cake and more dadaist doodle. ” Marina O’Loughlin, The Guardian
The impressively named Isaac McHale, head chef of the Clove Club, is a Scottish chef who learned his trade in the restaurants of Glasgow and during a six year spell at the Ledbury. He was heavily influenced by a stint at Noma, rising to prominence as part of the Young Turks collective (along with James Lowe, now of Lyle’s), operating various pop-ups in East London as well as a famous residency at the Ten Bells pub in Spitalfields. McHale is supported on front of house matters by Stockport lads Daniel Willis and Johnny Smith who both stepped up from being waiters, at St John Bread & Wine in Spitalfields and Great Queen Street in Covent Garden respectively. They opened in March 2013 amid much critical interest, with favourable reviews in most of the newspapers including from AA Gill (although he was less keen on the decor, setting or ambiance declaring it “hipster hell”) and gained a Michelin star last year. I went along for the good value set lunch menu which offers three courses for £35.
After three rounds of well executed amuse-bouche (the highlight being the buttermilk fried chicken nugget mentioned in Marina’s quote above) I started with a simple dish of mackerel tartare and cucumber with edible flowers and a hint of mayonnaise. The mackerel skin had been lightly charred to lend texture and the flesh was packed with flavour. The sharp, juicy cucumber and slightly bitter flowers cut through the rich, oily fish. We followed with beef shin with little morsels of confit potato and a nugget of bone marrow. The beef was melt in the mouth and nicely gelatinous around its edges – it was enhanced by a punchy beef stock gravy which was poured at the table and a chunk of slightly smoky, fatty bone marrow. A pair of crunchy confit potatoes added texture and were fairly light and not at all oily. It was a very rich but immensely enjoyable lunchtime main course.
Verdict: the young turk is still serving innovative and tasty food 8/10
“The Square was always good, but it’s got better. It has had two Michelin stars for some time; the lunch we ate deserved three.” AA Gill, The Sunday Times
Many of London’s high-end restaurants offer great value weekday lunch menus (for example three courses at Pollen Street Social would set you back £34.50 or at Wild Honey they are a bargain at £29.50) and The Square is arguably one of the best lunch options in the capital with a set menu at £35. Head chef Phil Howard opened The Square in 1991, gaining a Michelin star three years later, and two stars in 1998 which they have held ever since. Howard studied microbiology at university and then discovered a love for food, travelling to work in the Dordogne before undertaking apprenticeships under the Roux brothers and Marco Pierre White. He was given his big break (he hadn’t even held a sous chef position at the time and had no formal training) by an early backer of Pierre White, Nigel Platts-Martin who still co-owns The Square. Howard has gone on to open other successful London restaurants, including The Ledbury and Kitchen W8. Despite coming across as mild-mannered and focused in his frequent television appearances, he has a chequered past, having fought and overcome drug and alcohol addiction in the early 1990s.
We went along for a quiet Monday lunch and began by battling with the bible-like wine list – unfortunately they didn’t have the reasonably priced bottle I picked out and the sommelier was only able to offer an equivalent for £30 more, so we soldiered on with a couple of wines by the glass. A cold starter of crab and langoustine jelly with salad leaves was light and fresh – the sweetness of the langoustine came to the fore but was nicely contrasted with the slightly bitter leaves, including some baby nasturtiums. Our main of kid goat with celeriac mash was perfectly executed – the meat was very moist and soft, it tasted more like veal than goat and had been well rested so that its flesh could have been cut with a spoon. Roasted shallots and a hint of crème fraîche added some contrasting flavours, whilst the rich mash and dense gravy provided decadence. Service was careful, confident and efficient – small talk was kept at a minimum; dishes arrived and were removed with smoothness and the minimum of fuss.
Verdict: precise, restrained cooking with the odd hint of flair 8/10