Keeping It Local
Two brothers have transformed The Clifton in London’s cricketing neighbourhood into a deliciously secluded restaurant
Review by Izzy Ashton
Although a Londoner by birth, I profess not to have explored many of the neighbourhoods that haven’t been near where I’ve lived – so far Shepherd’s Bush and Brixton and counting. The problem with my narrow boundaries however, is that I’m missing out on too many hidden gems. And The Clifton, after my visit last week, has become one of those that I’m so glad I ventured across London for.
On a stiflingly hot, still Friday evening, I found myself, along with Citymapper, navigating my way through the palaces of St John’s Wood. Gawping not a little obviously through every open door, we meandered down a residential street to find the Clifton’s cream terraced front unassumingly nestled between two of these palatial houses.
The site itself has been run as a pub for the last 200 years. Indeed, three years ago when developers attempted to turn the property into a house, the residents protested, loudly. So the pub stayed as it was and as it now still is; a definitive local favourite.
Coming in through the gate off the pavement, there is a small, benched smoking area that closes at 9pm sharp each night to avoid the inevitable, but only occasional, noise complaint. The bar area resembles a newly refurbished pub but it is the restaurant section that sets it apart. Forest green walls are offset by delicate paintings, while wooden tables are scattered around the room. A small conservatory backs off the restaurant, letting a lovely degree of light into what could otherwise have become quite a dark interior.
We scooched into a little table near the open window, our sticky backs and shiny foreheads forever grateful to the slight breeze from outside and the fan’s activity on the other. A bottle of rosé ordered – this is West London after all – and on ice, we settled in to peruse the menu. One of the founding brothers, Ed Robson, walked us through the history of the place, as well as his own ambitions for the pub. This was done with none of the usual PR selling mumbo jumbo but rather with a genuine feeling of a good old local pub landlord. Everyone’s mate; just the right level of attentive but not at all intrusive.
A breadboard was duly munched through after the obligatory statement of, oh no I’m not going to have any. Oh, you are? Ok, I might just have a little bit then but only because I had a salad for lunch. We followed this up with our starters. An ice cold bowl was delivered to my guest full of burrata, tomatoes and grilled peaches with basil and mint. The sweetness of the peach matched perfectly with the smooth burrata and delicately popping tomatoes, while the mint added an extra summery coolness.
The second starter of chicken liver pâté was one of the standout dishes of the night. Homemade from the chef’s Italian recipe, it was served with toasted batons of sourdough and pickled shallots, that all pulled together to create a melange of flavours that had me nodding and mmm-ing across the table.
After much deliberation, fish was chosen for both main courses. One, the cod, came with a celeriac purée, mushrooms, spinach and crispy sage leaves. Give me crispy sage leaves on anything and I’ll fall in love so this was an easy pleaser. The purée was salty with sweet undertones that pulled the flavour of the fish along with it.
The other, sea bream, was a Spanish style dish accompanied by an assortment of clams and octopus in a nduja and tomato sauce. The fish was creamy and soft, a delicacy that matched perfectly with the spicy nduja sausage.
Although not usually worth a mention, who knew that mint could transform the humble new potato into a paragraph worthy dish? With crispy skin and doused in flakes of sea salt, the potatoes were phenomenal, and multiple attempts at a home recreation has been happening ever since. Alas to no avail.
Well-fed and happy, we felt rather older than our years as we remarked that the music was at a great and manageable level. Bear with me here. How many times have you sat in a London establishment and been completely unable to 1) hear yourself think and 2) hear what your dinner guest is saying? Answer: 9 times out of 10.
At the Clifton this was, rather refreshingly, not the case. There was no need to crank the music as high as possible to drown out the comforting burble of conversation. Because that is what the Clifton has been made for. Lovely, relaxed evenings, full of drawn out conversations and lazy flirtation.
If what you fancy is a little escape for the evening, or simply to stare at some seriously envy-inducing houses, make you way to West London and wander into the Clifton. Did I forget to mention the salted caramel fudge-like brownie? Oh, I did? Well, you can get that there too.