Clipstone: It’s all about choice (September 2016)

It is possible to feel slightly dizzy from the constant rush of new restaurants opening their doors to the public in London. Tyranny of choice sometimes spring to mind. However, based on the success of Portland, which I thoroughly loved when it opened last year (and won a deserved Michelin star), Clipstone definitely merited a visit. A recent lunchtime there with two others was well worth a trip and we rated the atmosphere, food and service, while pricing was also very fair. In contrast to Portland, Clipstone goes for a very clean and pared-back look, tiled walls, an open kitchen and simple seating. It worked well on a good day in early autumn when the sun streamed in and the tables were mostly occupied, but I could imagine it may feel slightly too stark and perhaps a little depressing at a less busy time on perhaps a rainy November day. Nonetheless, the food certainly cheered here. The formula is broadly a modern interpretation of mostly classic French dishes, with a few English quirks thrown in too. As is the current trend, plates are intended for sharing although larger options are also available. This is always great in principle but it did provoke some mild dissension among our group over what to choose and also begged somewhat the inevitable question of whether Clipstone perhaps needs to rethink its menu format. In particular, it was utterly unclear to us where a pizza (even an apparently very cool one topped with clams) would fit alongside say, either a crudo of yellowfin tuna or a grouse with wet polenta. Pizza dropped, we were all happier and indeed both the crudo and the grouse were stand-out dishes. The former was as light as it was flavoursome, delicately paired with preserved chanterelles and samphire. Meanwhile, the grouse was cooked close to perfection, tender and full of game-flavour. The twist of pickled elderberries was also an excellent one. In between, we journeyed through some of Clipstone’s ‘autumn’ dishes, and also rated the grilled ox tongue as well as the excellent cabbage and burnet aubergine dish. For the more adventurous, calves brain is also available, although this item again caused dissent in our group, and so we avoided on this occasion. The piece-de-resistance, however, was a Paris-Brest dessert, which tasted as good as it looked, even if this boosted the calorific intake of our group significantly. A final word on the wines: a very good list here (as at Portland), with clear thought put into compiling a balanced yet innovative set of selection. Our Oregon red blend ticked all the right boxes. At c£40/head, Clipstone feels like a good and reasonable option where your money is undoubtedly well spent.