Clarke’s, Kensington

It’s probably 20 years since I visited Clarke’s with my ex-wife for what was described as our “budget meal” – once a month we would push the boat out and have a great meal out somewhere.  As such, this and other budget meals stayed long in the memory, such that I’ve always wanted to go back to Kensington to revisit Clarke’s, and if ever my boat comes in I may yet do so!

It’s a tad difficult to classify Clarke’s.  If anything, it verges on modern Californian (especially a splendid wine list), but with nods to France, Italy, England and other places too.  The thing is, Sally Clarke established a restaurant 30 years ago dedicated to serving absolutely tip top fresh ingredients with a flair and no compromises.

This is from her website:

After a two year diploma course in hotel and catering at Croydon Technical College, Sally Clarke studied at Cordon Bleu School in Paris where from daily experience of the food markets, cafes and restaurants she began to visualise a career in the world of food and wine. Sally then spent 4 years in California where she met Alice Waters of Chez Panisse who became her mentor and friend.

In 1983 she returned to London to search for a site for her restaurant and the following year saw the opening of Clarke’s in Kensington Church Street, London offering her famous “no choice” four course dinner menu. Today, the idea of a “Sally’s” choice menu remains, now in 2 or 3 course options and has been supplemented with an a la carte menu as well.

In a sense, I regret that Clarke’s now offers menu choices, since this was one way to guarantee top quality with minimal waste, and in any case a word with the waiters would accommodate you with grub to suit any dietary foibles.  The menu is always planned daily to suit what fresh seasonal ingredients are available from suppliers, which to my way of thinking is how any restaurant worth its salt should operate.  Not just the meat or fish either – all the accompaniments were matched and served as an entire plat, no sides to be ordered, though nowadays a few have made it to the menu.

This I do remember: the main course when we went to Clarke’s was based around John Dory, a fine white fish with flavour and texture that I had never previously tried.  As part of the set 4-course menu it was sublime.  The starter was a salad, including fresh mandarin oranges and cobnuts, but best of all was the cheese course.  I love cheese at the best of times, but this was a perfect combination in exquisite condition and with sensible home-baked biscuits and sides.

Worth noting that Sally’s also has a bakery and deli next door.  The bread is worth travelling for alone, quite apart from the excellence of all the other ingredients.  If you are a foodie, go to Clarke’s – it is well worth appreciating such dedication to fine delicacies served with sympathy and understanding.

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