Monday, 2 December 2013
There used to be two pubs, each the kind of place where the England rhetoric put up in the windows veered just the wrong side of provocative and where if you weren’t accompanied by a dangerous dog you were very much in the minority.
One, on Hackney Road, was called the British Lion, which, when the BNP voter base dwindled sufficiently, closed down, remained derelict for a year or two then triumphantly opened as fancy wine bar Sager and Wilde. That’s gentrification for you, and whatever your feelings on the myriad of changes the East End of London has been through in the last few years, I’m afraid I do not miss The British Lion. Partly because I am not the target demographic for a far-right drinking den on Hackney Road but mainly because Sager and Wilde is so bloody good.
The other pub, The Ravenscroft, was never quite as openly belligerent as the British Lion, but still had the kind of atmosphere that created a metaphorical ‘needle slipping off the record’ sound as soon as you stepped through the door. Or maybe that was just me. Either way, it was hardly a friendly place, and when it too finally succumbed to the creeping gentrification from nearby Columbia Road and was billed to reopen as a “guilt-free, ethical fried chicken” joint (at least according to a press release so full of chicken and egg puns it put me off my lunch) then despite some doubts I prepared to welcome it.
Clutch makes one long for the days of warm pints of flat Fosters, sticky carpets and tacit aggression. There is so much wrong here it’s hard to know where to start, but the first thing you’ll notice is the service, shared between three people who seemed to find the whole business of ‘finding out what people want to eat then bringing it’ to be a challenge on the level of completing a PhD.
There was one woman, young and blonde and apologetic, who said she could take our drinks order but not food because “she didn’t know the menu well enough yet”. You’d think five minutes reading the thing would be an easy remedy for that, but anyway, her call. After far too long trying to attract someone else’s attention, a slightly more senior Irish woman appeared who went through the motions for a few seconds before literally losing interest between mains and sides and went off for a far more interesting chat with a male colleague. Then said male colleague came over a few minutes later and started the whole process again.
But if the service was traumatic, it had nothing on the food. Best of the two mains was a roast of sorts, consisting of a teaspoon of mash, two (!!) minuscule roast potatoes, what tasted suspiciously like packet stuffing, what tasted even more suspiciously like frozen Yorkshire pudding, and a quarter of roast chicken hacked into pieces and turned inside out like something from a Ridley Scott film. That picture is exactly how it was presented. This was £14.
But oh God, the “fried chicken”. A picture tells a thousand words (even one of my pictures) so I’ll give you a few seconds to take in the full horror of the “peanut chilli crust half bucket” before coming back to this post. Are you finished? Have you washed your teeth? Right, I’ll continue. It was, as you can probably see, burnt, and not just by a bit - the dried chilli was black and acrid, the peanuts huge and distracting, each forming part of a crust so thick and bitter and unpleasant it beggared belief anyone - the chef, the staff, anyone - would have considered it fit to serve.
Inside the ‘Ferrero Roche’ crust (as some wag pointed out when I shared my lunch on Twitter) was some slimy poached chicken but getting to it involved so much digging I soon gave up after unwrapping just one piece of thigh. Even more distressing was the fact the chicken itself - and this applied to the roast too - was actually of fairly good quality, which possibly went some way to explain why three bits of it came to £11.
A £4 bowl of very mayonnaise-y coleslaw (from a section headed “Sloppy Sides”) was eaten because it was edible, and for that we were most grateful, but if I’m paying £11 for three bits of chicken, even if they had been any good, is it too much to expect dipping sauces (sorry, “Dippety Dips”) to be free? Here, a small pot of “roasted garlic & creme fraiche” cost £2, and would have been another £2 if we’d had a small bowl of the “citric curd” as well. On second thoughts, perhaps it’s for the best we didn’t.
We ordered the bill, it came, it was wrong, we sent it back. It came back again, it was still wrong but this time in our favour so we shrugged and paid it. Even the two mains on their own, though, came to a total of £25 without service - this is not a cheap place. So it’s hard, really, to see why anyone should bother eating at Clutch. It’s expensive, the food is objectively not good (and repeated on me throughout the night), the service makes you feel like an inconvenience and there are better places (this is East London remember) within a minute’s walk. Come back, the Ravenscroft pub - all is forgiven.