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A crime not to try – Clifford’s Restaurant
This is a place I know well of old. Fetter Lane, right in the heart of Legal Land was my stomping ground. Today it seems to have become even more focused on the world of law – the newspapers are almost all gone from nearby Fleet Street and that scattering of offices have somehow morphed into chambers.
I’ve known the venue that is now Clifford’s Restaurant through two previous iterations. Both successful in their own way, the most recent, one of the three 28-50 wine bars and kitchens, a particular favourite of mine. So I’m intrigued to see what Gemma Ellis, in her first solo venture, makes of the place.
I’ve probably eaten Gemma’s food before too – she trained at my old ‘local’ (if you can call a Michelin starred pub a local), The Harwood Arms. The style of food she’s now serving is probably closer to the way The Harwood was Somewhere in between the Hoxton Hip of Adam Handling’s The Frog and the traditional Chophouse style of The White Swan. It works well for me.
Clifford’s felt like coming home and Gemma explained that she’d kept much of the old interior from 28-50. I have no problem with that – at a time when we should all pay more attention to recycling, it seems entirely appropriate that she hasn’t stripped out and remodelled what is still a comfortable and well-structured space.
I’m trying hard not to drink spirits at the moment so avoided the quirky cocktail list, though the likes of Ma’am est Malade (gin, Lillet, marmalade and Angostura) or Kum Quat May (vodka, Cointreau and kumquat syrup) give you a good idea of the options – simple yet slightly different. I did, however, opt for one of the ‘snacks’ instead of a starter. The snack menu currently includes bread and bone marrow gravy, smoked cod’s roe and toast or the Venison Gyoza I enjoyed filled with spiced minced venison, chilli and soy.
Meanwhile, my companion was offered the ‘off menu but coming back’ signature crispy Cacklebean egg on a light whipped cod’s roe from Flying Fish Seafood in Cornwall.
Toothsome comfort food, the salty tang of cod’s roe blended with the luscious ochre richness of the soft boiled egg dipped in a panko breadcrumb, iced then deep-fried – a bit of culinary wizardry there! We learnt that the trick to the cod’s roe (taramasalata type stuff) was that it had been made with potato rather than bread, making it almost fluffy in texture.
We ordered a bottle of Pinot Noir, Volnay 1er Cru, Champans, Côte d’Or, France 2014 which was full of tannins with a spiced plum mouth.
The concise menu has a range of quasi-retro dishes – asparagus and soft boiled egg or scampi with cocktail sauce to start and, my own choice of main – a wild garlic chicken Kiev with mash.
I loved the Kiev itself, a panko coated tender chicken breast, beautifully cooked so that the delicate flesh stayed moist with a classic garlic butter laced with wild garlic. Light, creamy mash that any posher outfit would call Pommes de Terre mousseline accompanied the chicken. A retro dish made good by excellent cooking.
My companion enjoyed his perfectly cooked sea trout with Asian honey, ginger and sesame sauce and nicely al dente spring vegetables, broccoli and asparagus.
We shared the chargrilled hispi cabbage, basted with butter to make my attempt at healthy eating totally futile, while he indulged in fat, crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside chips that meant his erstwhile healthy dish was elevated to gluttony. It’s that kind of place. I was actually quite tempted to try the burger – and I have a dreadful suspicion I’ll need to go back for just that.
A dessert of blood orange posset was a suitably 21st-century twist on a classic while my companion wanted nothing more than a scoop of rhubarb sorbet, which at £3 a go was excellent value. It turned out to be homemade and gently creamy with a sweet-sour tang, he was a happy man. Bread and butter pudding or affogato make for a neat set of sweet options. There are cheeses too if you prefer – from Neal’s Yard. And a whole set of after dinner drinks which nearly had me abandoning my ‘no spirits’ resolution to try the ‘Baked Well’ with Disaronna, cherry and almond sorbet and lemon.
What do I like best about Clifford’s? A genuine passion for food – and infectious enthusiasm from Gemma. That’s a money can’t buy ingredient we should all seek out and champion when we find it. And, an unpretentious approach in a land of lawyers which is definitely worth taking time out to visit.
London EC4A 1BT