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I was up in London a few weekends ago and headed to Clarke's for dinner on a Saturday night. Why Clarke's? It's been on my list of London restaurants to check out for years.

I now know that list needs serious refreshing.

Every taste was dull, every plate, uninspired.

I guess heirloom tomatoes were a big deal once, but Sally Clarke should know there now has to be more to an appetizer than multi-coloured tomato slices and a few chunks of feta. My main course was a chicken breast with corn so tough I pushed it all aside -- ditto for the green and yellow beans. The cheese course was pleasant, but at these prices (3 courses £39.75, 4 courses, £49.50) I would expect a selection cut from a cheese board rather than a plate with two predetermined choices plopped down in front of me. Dessert -- an orange cake -- was pedestrian.

I'm all for Chez Panisse-style cuisine, but Clarke's does not appear to have the quality ingredients to take it to that level. Or maybe now that all top chefs use pristine ingredients, that Alice-Waters-less-is-more style is nearing its best before date.

All this was bad enough, but what made my meal at Clarke’s worse was the incompetent service. When I requested a bottle of Pouilly-Fumé, our waitress opened the menu and asked me to point to it -- from the list of reds! The maitre d' was more knowledgeable, yet he was busy behind the bar twiddling his thumbs most of the night while the bus girl was taking orders. Add to that a dull room, zero buzz, messy washrooms and a bill well over £100, and you have my dinner -- one that I have regretted ever since, especially as I only had one night in the city. But with Clarke’s on my “to do” list, that meal was inevitable.

Still, one good thing came of it. This review.

Clarke’s: to be avoided.

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Sally Clarke is a member of the rather pseudy and snobby crowd of chef/owners, see also Rogers, Ruth and Gyngell, Skye. You are lucky to eat at their places, rather than they are lucky to have you paying through the nose to be there.

That's not to say that Clarkes wasn't once a good restaurant but times change even if the chef doesn't.

As you say, much of what she does is no longer either cool or trendy but no one in her immediate environment has the courage to criticise this rather matrician woman and put her back on the right course.

S

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The people at the table next to me had terrible table manners.

So much for a society dinner party.

Frankly, the place is just drop dead dull. No, make that tedious.

It's funny what you say about Clarke being the figure head and all. On the menu she initializes the items she recommends with this odd initial swag thing. So unecessary, I think. What does it mean? The rest isn't recommended?

As for the chef/owners snobby thing, I would think if she keeps up with this kind food, she won't be in business much longer.

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On the menu she initializes the items she recommends with this odd initial swag thing. So unecessary, I think. What does it mean? The rest isn't recommended?

The place has just introduced an a la carte -- previously it took the set menu, all courses, no choice approach. I suspect the personal recommendations thing on the menu is to dilute the choice. It says "this is what you'd be eating if I had my way. But if you're too unrefined to recognise this, then so be it."

The people at the table next to me had terrible table manners. ... drop dead dull. No, make that tedious.

Yup - add in a conversation about school fees and that sounds like every West London dinner party I've ever been to.

Edited by naebody (log)
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For balance, too, let me add a positive note. I ate there in June; I had been a number of times about 10 years ago, but this was my first visit in a while.

As has been remarked the food is fairly plain with high quality ingredients. I was impressed. The food tries to make its mark with the inherent quality of the materials: so I had some salmon, perfectly cooked, with a crisp fried artichoke, and some lemonny mayonnaise. Good asparagus, some nice puddings. The wine (a red burgundy) was served too warm, but on request they put it in a cool water bucket for ten minutes which corrected it.

The atmosphere is certainly not to everyones taste; quite respectable, with lots of rich gay couples, and kensington types. Not a young fashionable crowd.

If you want a Tom Aikens level of excitement then don't come here. But I enjoyed my meal here more than Tom Aikens which was frankly poor verging on the ridiculous.

I am also amazed by the vituperation and personal attacks here.

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I am also amazed by the vituperation and personal attacks here.

I have never eaten at the restaurant, but recently interviewed Sally Clarke over the phone for a forthcoming article. Difficult to get a true picture of anyone under those circumstances of course, but for what its worth, I found her to be very pleasant, intelligent, articulate and passionate about her restaurant and cooking.

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Well, I thought it was dreary, and I'm not one who requires the Cirque du Soleil back-hand-springing at my table.

Basically what failed here was the service (lazy) and the quality of ingredients (meat and fish were good, but the vegetables were not). As for Norman’s claim that the food was “imaginatively presented,” that certainly was not the case with my food. The plates looked like Sunday dinner.

Eliminate those factors and there's not much left to like about this place.

Whether or not Sally Clarke is a nice lady means really nothing in the long run if the waitress doesn't know what a pouilly-fumé is, right? I’m sure she’s nice -- to the right people (like we all are), and I would assume those are the kind of people who don’t do much cooking at home.

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snip

Whether or not Sally Clarke is a nice lady means really nothing in the long run if the waitress doesn't know what a pouilly-fumé is, right? I’m sure she’s nice -- to the right people (like we all are), and I would assume those are the kind of people who don’t do much cooking at home.

I have never met her and I don't care whether she is a nice person, any more than I care whether Gordon Ramsay is a nice person.

I get the feeling you are trying to be insulting here, but it is a little vague.. are you saying that upper class Kensington types don't cook, therefore they don't know anything about food, therefore they like the "shitty" food at Clarke's?

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No. I'm saying they probably like the kind of homey food she is making but they are not.

I'm really not being insulting to Ms. Clarke. I simply found that her restaurant, which I had been planning on visiting for years, was a massive disappointment.

BTW, I'm from Montreal, Canada. I'm not some jaded Brit foodie :wink: I was at Clarke's as a tourist.

I'm also a restaurant critic by profession, who beleives it's important to get the word out for anyone else thinking of dropping major bucks at this restaurant. I also did a site search before heading to Clarke's and came up blank. So it's good for eGullet as well to get the debate going on this reputed restaurant.

No?

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I think your first point is a fair one: I wouldn't say that the food there is particularly homey, but it certainly avoids a lot of the tropes of restaurant cooking -- in particularly, except for the puddings, I found it quite light and not as high fat as most London restaurants.

I am not a huge fan of this restaurant, but I generally think the food in London is very poor, and so by suitably adjusted standards this is quite good.

In particularly in this part of London there is Kensington Place, the Ark, the Ledbury a bit further north, Assaggi, and a bunch of good Chinese restaurants on Queensway. So this fills a local niche. I certainly would not travel from Montreal to go to this place :hmmm:

I have no idea where all of this snobby dinner party stuff came from.

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I'm almost tempted to take you up on that just to see how bad it is!

Do, because its worth having. I've owned it for a while (picked it up in a remainder shop actually) and cooked from it very recently. Its nicely designed, great pics and there's a fair amount of text to read as well as the recipes. I like the fact that its based on many years of cooking and is not just the latest in a long line of volumes knocked out quickly to cash in on a TV series.

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I've never been and to clarke's and don't particularly plan to but given how long they've been in business they must be doing something right.

Errr, Aberdeen Angus Steak House, mate? :hmmm:

Didn't Aberdeen Angus Steakhouses go bust at one point?

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I've never been and to clarke's and don't particularly plan to but given how long they've been in business they must be doing something right.

Errr, Aberdeen Angus Steak House, mate? :hmmm:

there's obviously another angle at AAS, no doubt the large portfolio of central london properties has some attractions, no quite the same as a small independent place!

you don't win friends with salad

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