London has some of the best eateries in the UK, from top class street food to some of the finest places to dine. Rob Kirby, Chef Director at Lexington caught up with Johnny Smith, from Shoreditch Town’s Michelin Star bar and restaurant, The Clove Club, between service to take a look at the menu, find out the secret to his success and look at what’s in store for 2015.
Here he tells Rob about The Clove Club’s vegetable-inspired feasts and seasonal menus, in Shoreditch Town Hall, and how they are helping put British food back on the map.
How did The Clove Club come about?
The Clove Club started as a dinner party for friends in the front room of my flat, in Dalston!
Daniel Willis (co-owner and Manc pal) and I love service, food and music and we threw everything we had at it. We were committed to making the dinners as good as we possibly could. There was lots of attention to detail.
We were introduced to Isaac McHale, now our best friend and chef business partner and he came to cook at the second Clove Club in the flat. We hit it off straight away. During the summer of 2012 the three of us, along with chef James Lowe of Lyle’s Restaurant, ran a number of pop-ups in random places across London, from Frank’s Campari Bar on the rooftop of a car park in Peckham to a disused Warehouse in Canary Wharf. It was lots of fun.
We were mad for it – the food and service gave us such a buzz. After spending most of my twenties trying to get away from service I came to London, was exposed to the restaurant scene, and started to realise how much I loved it.
After spending a six-month residency in a dining room above The Ten Bells pub in Spitalfields, as The Young Turks, Isaac, Daniel and I decided to look for something more permanent. That’s how we ended up here, at The Clove Club.
London is full of great places – why Shoreditch?
We looked at other places but let’s just say we had a soft spot for Shoreditch – it’s a great place and has a lot of charm. We wanted to bring great food here and put Shoreditch back on the map.
Daniel, Isaac and I all felt a connection with The Town Hall, we knew it was right; the space is just amazing.
How do you make sure people keep coming back?
It’s about improving people’s experience all the time and loving what you are doing. I want a guest to walk through the door, at The Clove Club, and instantly want to come back again, before they have even spoken to anyone, drunk anything or tasted the food – because the atmosphere is inviting and they are met with a smile.
Daniel, Issac and I are all crazy about food, wine and service. Everything at Clove is collaborative process, we all care about what we do and work really hard. There is no grand design, it’s all very instinctual and it just works.
What’s your approach to food?
Britain has a wonderful food heritage but it’s often misunderstood and too often forgotten. We want to help push British food and let people experience the excitement of the food and flavours it has to offer. Having said that we take inspiration from all over the world as well.
Provenance, quality and seasonality are key for us. Isaac puts a lot of effort into finding the very best suppliers. We work with small producers mainly in the UK – we use a day boat fisherman in Cornwall, all our lamb comes from George in Swaledale, and we source our beef from two of the best guys in the trade.
We also want to create an element of surprise and excitement for our guests, using some of the lesser-known varieties of fruit and vegetables such as Turnips and Miyagawa Satsumas and presenting them in a new innovative way.
One of the great things about our tasting menu is that guests try interesting and different dishes that they might not order from an à la carte menu.
So, how does it feel to have been awarded a Michelin Star?
It’s great we came second in the National Restaurant Awards, earlier this year, but it’s an award only really acknowledged within the London foodie scene, whereas Michelin is recognised internationally. This has helped put us and to some extent Shoreditch on the map.
I knew from very early on that the food Isaac and Tim were producing was of Michelin Star quality so it’s great to get the recognition. Whilst our front of house service doesn’t necessarily conform to the traditional Michelin Star criteria of white table cloths and silver service, it is friendly, informed, attentive and on point and it’s great to see Michelin acknowledge this.
What do you love most about what you do?
Food, wine and looking after guests alongside a brilliant team. he energy is just amazing – from the moment I walk through the door in the morning through to lunch and then dinner. It just keeps going, it’s dynamic and I love it.
So, any more restaurant openings for you and the boys Johnny?
We’re loving what we are doing and we will just see where it takes us (diplomatic Johnny).
Yes mate, 100% (real Johnny)
Watch this space!
(Picture – Lexington Catering)