One of the things I do here in London a lot more than I used to in South Africa is eating out. Part of it is the incredible range of options available to you living in one of the world’s gastro-capitals. Another part of if is that because of the hugeness of the city, people tend to prefer meeting centrally in restaurants rather than travelling out to far flug suburban houses. And then of course there is the fact that I like eating out!! I have been to a load of restaurants over the past few months but have only written up a handful of them. For some, I still have notes and pictures, so I could still do an after-the-fact write-up; others are lost in the mists of time. Either way, I have decided to be a bit more proactive about writing up my London dining experiences – so here goes one I had recently.
The Clerkenwell Dining Room is about a seven minute walk from my office, which makes it ideal for a slightly more up-market lunch than my usual haunt. The room is attractive and understated, with the tables far enough apart that you don’t have to eavesdrop on anybody else, nor have them eavesdropping on you (maybe this is a function of being in the City, with its obsession with Chinese Walls…!). All is as it should be with heavy white tablecloths and sparkling cutlery and glasses. There are two menus – the a la carte and a menu du jour – we ordered off the a la carte, but the menu du jour offered good value and some tasty-sounding dishes as well. Sorry – no pictures as I was with non-blogging colleagues and I’m not sure they are quite ready to be sucked into my shadowy subculture of obsessive food photography!!
We skipped starters and moved directly on to the delicious-sounding mains. Both my colleagues had the roast canon of lamb (and both professed it to be delicious), but being a sucker for duck, I went with the almond-crusted duck breast with honey and mustard dressed vegetables. Oh boy – good choice!! I have had a couple of disappointments with duck lately, with nothing measuring up to the fantastic quality of the duck served at our local Chinese, Yi Ban. But this was duck as God intended it. A breast done to perfection, neither under- nor over-done, with a crispy, salty layer of skiin crusted with chopped almonds. Perfection! It was served on what tasted like a bed of caramelised potato slices and surrounded by little vegetable morsels (tiny tomatoes & onions) and a delicious honey and wholegrain mustard sauce. All the tastes just worked so well together and the plating was attractive without being fussy. The wine was selected to match the hot day, rather than being a spectacular partner for any of the food – a bottle of Flor de Los Andes Sauvignon Blanc 2004 (Chile) which was of the lovely gooseberry school of sauvignon blanc and went down a treat (in the region of £18 if I remember correctly).
Then came the reason why I had foregone the starter: dessert. I had dined there before and was well acquainted with their warm chocolate fondant pudding. And I knew that given its size, a conscious effort has to be made to leave space for it – so I did! And it certainly did not disappoint. It’s a giant monster of a fondant and it’s less eggy than some I’ve had – in fact, it has an almost crispy exterior that only comes with judicious use of flour. But the interior is pure, bittersweet molten pleasure. It was served with a scoop of malt ice cream which made a nice counterpoint to the richness of the pudding. Heaven on a plate. Probably worth going there just for this and a cup of coffee if you are pushed for time!
If there was anything negative to say, it would be that the ventilation could be better – we were seated near smokers and towards the end of the meal the smoke became really intrusive. But other than that, the food and service were excellent and at under £35 per head for 2 courses & a bottle of wine, I’d definitely say it’s a good deal for this part of the City – proper, grown-up food in a proper, grown-up restaurant without astronomical prices.
The Clerkenwell Dining Rooms
69-73 St John Street
Tel: 020 7253 9000
Fax: 020 7253 3322