Shoreditch’s Clove Club is the best restaurant in London. Really, it is. They even have the awards to prove it including the BMW Square Meal Award for Best Restaurant 2015. As we’re only a month and a half into 2016 that title definitely still holds.
Known for their British seasonal dishes which draw out exquisite flavours and play with textures and temperatures, this is one tasting menu worth every penny. And for the last two years the team here has been serving an innovative combination of Madeira, the fortified Portuguese wine made in the Madeira Islands, and either duck or pheasant consommé (which is a type of clear soup made from richly flavored stock or bouillon), as part of their extended tasting menu.
Amidst a feast of elegant plates and beautiful flavours, chef and co-owner Isaac McHale's serve stands out as one of the most memorable dishes. Perhaps because it’s not a dish at all. The experience goes something like this; co-owner Johnny Smith comes over to your table with a decanter and a bottle of ancient-looking Madeira. Wine glasses are placed down and a healthy glug of the vintage wine is poured into each glass. You’re told to take half the Madeira in your mouth, allowing the rich, old liquid to penetrate your senses, delighting your taste buds with its intense complexity.
With half the Madeira still in the wine glass, Johnny will then pour a careful amount of warm pheasant or duck - depending on the season - consommé in, the steam rising out of the glass. A gentle swirl of a practised sommelier, and your dish is ready to go. When I experienced this in late November last year I couldn’t stop thinking about that rich old wine and those light, roasted pheasant flavours. In a tasting menu with each dish delighting more than the last, it was that steaming wine glass I walked away thinking about.
In fact, I’d tried it once before back in October 2014 when the team were using duck consommé and thought it was a strange, deep and rich flavour. Tasting it again brought back that memory, and so I rang Johnny to discuss the serve. As it turned out it was his day off (although as he pointed out, when you own a restaurant you never really get a day off) and I had caught him at home, drinking a glass of 1908 Madeira.
Instagram corner going crazy over 100 year old Madeira and duck consommé.
“Before the beginning of the 20th century it was normal to drink Madeira with food, during the meal, but this has died out. Madeira has become a relic, if a guest hasn’t heard of it before I often say you’ll probably have seen it on the side cabinet in your grandparents’ house. But it’s wonderfully complex and great value for money. We’ve used different vintages, and are currently on the 1908 which is both complex and aromatic,” he said.
Clove Club sources their Madeira from Pereira D’Oliveira, which has been trading the wine since 1820. Maturing in pipes (a 650 litre barrel), these develop slowly and are only bottled to order. The four major grape varieties used for Madeira production are Malvasia, Boal, Verdelho and Sercial.
The team played around and discovered that Boal works best in this dish. They’ve experimented with Verdelho but it’s slightly too dry for the duck which needs a fuller sweetness. The Boal 1908 is a stunning world class vintage, and is quite possibly the oldest and richest drink guests will have ever tasted.
The consommé is made by roasting the bones from the birds before turning them into a rich, savoury broth with herbs. It’s aromatics melt in with the Madeira beautifully.
“I think there is a growing trend for people to drink Madeira and sherry, and this encourages that. If we want the next generation to try 80 year old Madeira then we have to keep that industry going,” Johnny said.
There are several reasons why the memory of this serve still lingers on my palate. Those flavours, that richness, the liquid serve – it was simply incredibly novel and well-executed. If you find yourself booked into the Clove Club soon it’s a delight to experience, so savour every gulp.