What could be more British than the traditional gentlemen’s club? The earliest of these members’ only clubs were established in London’s West End with the idea of being a place where gentlemen of means could gather, socialise, eat, drink, smoke and gamble away from the concerns of politics and business… and womenfolk (who were ineligible for membership). London’s oldest club, White’s, was established in 1693 and remains one of the most exclusive in the world, counting Princes Charles and Prince William as members (but not the Queen as women are still ineligible for membership…!). These clubs probably reached the height of their popularity and influence in the late 19th century before social change started resulting in a decline in their numbers. Today there are probably only around 25 notable traditional gentlemen’s clubs left in London but there has been a rise in a modern interpretation of these establishments, where membership is a paid-for commodity rather than dictated by social status or academic affiliation and female members (and mobile phones!) are permitted. One such modern private members’ club is the Devonshire Club who, in a break with tradition, have opened their doors of their Brasserie to the public on Saturdays with the launch of Sushi in the City.
The club is conveniently situated in the heart of the City, about halfway between Aldgate and Liverpool Street stations, spread across two Grade II-listed buildings (a former 18th-century East India Company warehouse and an adjacent Georgian townhouse). The interiors were designed by March & White who have worked on a number of other private members’ clubs and who have filled the space with classic mid-20th century style furnishings and some glamorous Art Deco accents, while still maintaining a contemporary feel. We started off in the rather glamorous bar where on Saturday afternoons there is a live DJ playing chilled tunes and adding to the relaxed ambience. The barman was charm personified and entertained us with his patter while mixing our cocktails for us, including a brilliant negroni.
The Sushi in the City event takes place every Saturday in the Brasserie adjacent to the bar. The Brasserie is similarly decorated in mid-20th century style but with gorgeous Art Deco style leather booths along one mirrored wall. There is comfortable bar counter seating available where you can watch your sushi and sashimi being prepared, or choose a table by the windows that overlook the terrace and afford a spectacular view of the Gherkin. The set menu is priced at £50 per person with the option of adding bottomless prosecco for £15 or Veuve Clicquot Champagne for £30 per person.
As the menu is set, any anxiety about what to choose falls away and you can lose yourself quite happily in a haze of bubbles. Unlike some “free-flowing” bubbly meals I have had where the waitstaff mysteriously disappear as soon as your glass is empty, service here was charming and attentive, and our glasses were never empty. The first dish on the menu was Victor’s sushi & sashimi bonanza, named after resident head sushi chef Victor Klomu. The sashimi was a showstopper dish served shrouded in a theatrical cloud of liquid nitrogen “smoke” – perfectly Instagrammable! The fish (salmon, tuna and yellowtail) was pristinely fresh and delicious, served with an excellent truffle and ponzu dipping sauce. The accompanying sushi platter consisted of some excellent maki rolls filled with crab and avocado; and with salmon, avocado and cream cheese. There was also a selection of gorgeous nigiri sushi including smoked eel, shrimp, tuna and lightly seared salmon. The accompanying bowl of pickled vegetables (including cucumber, mooli and seaweed) was deliciously tart and crunchy and very moreish (although somewhat misleadingly described on the menu as “raw” vegetables).
My favourite dish of the meal was undoubtedly the perfectly light and crisp plate of seafood and vegetable tempura that arrived next. The platter included prawns, soft shell crab, broccoli, zucchini batons and addictively crisp sisho leaves. The tempura was accompanied by a somewhat over-sweet chilli dipping sauce, but staff were happy to bring us more of the truffle ponzu dipping sauce from the previous course upon request. Another piece of table theatre followed with the serving of the roast pork belly, chilli and coriander ramen, as the broth was poured at the table. The ramen noodles were made in-house and were perfectly cooked to remain slightly al dente; and the pork belly was meltingly delicious – but I thought that the broth lacked the depth of flavour that a really excellent ramen bowl should have, and the chilli in the title was not much in evidence in the taste. Far better was the Devonshire Club signature dish of crispy duck and pomegranate salad, a delightful combination of shards of crispy roast duck, julienned vegetables, sprouts, pomegranate arils and lots of fresh coriander in a tangy Asian dressing. For me, the weakest dish of the day was the disappointing miso blackened cod. This is such an iconic dish that, if it is going to go on the menu, it has to be done to perfection. The fish here was beautifully fresh, moist and flaky but lacked the gooey, umami-rich flavour of slow-roast miso blackened cod, where the “blackening” comes from the caramelisation of the sweet miso paste. Here it seemed that the fish had been roasted and then hastily blackened with a blowtorch and lacked any discernible miso flavour. Definitely not a highlight for me.
To finish the meal, we had some jasmine tea and the day’s selection of ice-cream filled mochi. I know some find the glutinous chewy texture of the mochi challenging, but I love it and I love the contrast of the ice-cream encased within. When we visited, the flavours were strawberry, sesame and yuzu, with my runaway favourite being the tangy yuzu – very moreish! After we had finished our meal, we retired to the bar for a final cocktail or two, including excellent espresso martinis.
The verdict: At £50 per head before alcohol, this is perhaps not the cheapest luxury brunch around, but it is definitely something different for London and most of the food was of a very high standard, particularly the sushi. And if you add some genuinely free-flowing bubbles then over the course of a couple of hours you will definitely not feel shortchanged. The surroundings are plush without being overly formal or ostentatious and service from the barman and all the waitstaff was friendly and very good. Definitely recommended if you are looking for a City weekend brunch with a twist.
Nearest station: Liverpool Street
Cost per head: £50 for the set menu (add £15/£30 with bottomless prosecco/Champagne)
The Devonshire Club
4&5 Devonshire Square,
Tel: 020 3146 5503
DISCLOSURE: I enjoyed this meal as a guest of The Devonshire Club but received no further remuneration to write this post. I was not expected to write a positive review – all views are my own and I retain full editorial control.
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