Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Club Zetter and the Zetter Hotel, Clerkenwell

This week came the news that Bruno Loubet, the Bordeaux-born chef who worked with Pierre Koffmann at La Tante Claire before running a series of fine dining restaurants in London throughout the 90s, has closed the Grain Store in Kings Cross, his last restaurant in London (if you don't count the one at Gatwick Airport. Which you shouldn't).

I've often wondered what the lucky people who ate at places like Bistro Bruno (1993), L'Odeon (1995) or even made the trip to Raymond Blanc's Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in the 1980s (where he was head chef at the time) made of the Grain Store. Loubet was once a very traditional fine-dining French chef, all demi-glace and fillet of beef with foie gras; the Grain Store was an odd departure, largely vegetarian and vegan, pushing things like grilled tenderstem broccoli and carrot and orange smoothies. Ironically, the bits I enjoyed most from the menu at Grain Store were the occasional dishes that involved meat; pigeon seared in the Josper grill, for example, or pork and lamb belly tamales. Fairly or unfairly I assumed that this was really where his heart (and skills) lay as a chef.

Much as I admired Grain Store, then, and much as I recognise its importance in the grand scheme of things, you don't win friends with salad. And it's a pleasure to report that the replacement for Loubet's other restaurant, Bistro Bruno Loubet, on the ground floor of the Zetter hotel in Clerkenwell, is an honest-to-goodness belt-and-braces Modern European bistro, full of things like chicken liver parfait, pork belly and dry-aged steak. And if you think shoes like Loubet's are going to be hard to fill, well let me introduce you to chef Ben Boeynaems.

I know I'm prone to hyperbole occasionally(!) on this blog, but I honestly can't remember the last time outside of the very finest of fine dining restaurants I've been offered dishes so utterly, seductively beautiful as Ben Boeynaems' at the Zetter. After a tray of good bread and salted butter came this gazpacho, lovingly drizzled with concentric rings of olive oil and cut across with a single long crouton dotted with neat cubes of olive and tomato. In the center, a miniature bouquet of cherry tomatoes and a sprig of micro basil. All of which astonishing artistry would mean nothing, of course, if it didn't perform on the tastebuds but fortunately it more than qualified on that front too - silky and herby and full of summer flavour.

Asparagus with "crispy hens egg" was in its own way just as attractive. Bright green spears of asparagus, draped with wispy sheets of ham, lay next to a perfectly soft-boiled egg, coated in a thin layer of breadcrumbs. Yes, ham egg and asparagus isn't a revolutionary combination, but it's a great one, and when created with as much care and technical skill as this, is unbeatable. Doesn't it just look incredible?

Chicken liver parfait had been made under a delicate dome of spun sugar and was - again - beautiful. The parfait was dense and meaty, lifted with a touch (I think) of alcohol and luxuriantly textured. Toasted brioche was similarly accomplished, soft inside and gently sweet.

An in-between course of miniature surf'n'turf - steak tartare and anchovy - was as exquisitely presented as everything else and a fine show of technical ability. I think if you can't enjoy steak, gently loosened with mayonnaise and capers, topped with a crunchy nugget of deep-fried anchovy, well then there's no hope for you.

Mains continued to draw gasps. If you've ever seen a better looking fillet of cod than this, with its golden crust, gleaming white flesh and bed of sea plants and mussels, then you're either very lucky or a liar. The fish fell apart into clean, defined flakes and the seafood-butter sauce bound the salty seaweed and sea aster together. It was pretty much a perfect cod dish, utterly faultless.

Pea and broad bean risotto, vibrantly green and lit with bright chunks of sheeps' curd, contained excellent al-dente rice and generous shavings of strong summer truffle. It tasted great too, of course. But I mean, just look at it.

Dark chocolate mousse came teased into another geometrically-exact dome, surrounded by a swoop of granola-dotted chocolate like one of the rings of Saturn.

And finally lemon posset, made from Amalfi lemons no less, topped with summer berry compote and crossed with two warm doughnut sticks. Just like everything that had come before, it was beautiful inside and out.

There's a part of me wishes there at been at least something to complain about during our evening at the Zetter, because such gushing praise about a relatively unknown chef, new to his job and with a bill picked up by the PR company, could quite rightly raise eyebrows. But I hope you can tell from the photos at least that such praise isn't misplaced, or even exaggerated. And while you'll have to take my word that it all tasted as good as it looked, at the prices they're charging the public (starters are £5-£9, mains £14-24) they shouldn't be too far out of anyone's budget if you wanted to try it yourself. £17 for that incredible bit of cod; £6.50 for that dome of chicken liver parfait. It's all amazing value.

Anyway, if I haven't convinced you by now I never will. Thank you, Zetter hotel, for the meal (obviously) as well as the night in your lovely rooftop garden rooms, and congratulations for somehow managing to find a chef to not only adequately fill the vacuum left by one of London's most famous chefs but in a few short weeks almost eclipse him. It's a real achievement. This grand old Clerkenwell hotel has reinvented itself - again - with one of the most exciting new bistros in town, and the future looks bright.


I was invited to eat at Club Zetter and to spend a night in their Deluxe Rooftop Suite. The bill with drinks would have been about £45/head, and the Rooftop Suite is available from £405/night. Offers available on their website.


Anonymous said...

Seriously this looks very boring and uninspired - another gastro pub with always the same dishes (chicken liver parfait, risotto, cod)... At least Bruno was trying something different rather drawing a circle on a plate.

Anonymous said...

I know this subject has been much discussed, but you can't, in all honesty, expect people to believe this review was completely impartial when you're not only comped the meal but a rooftop suite as well. You're stretching any readers goodwill to breaking point.

Chris Pople said...

Everything I write I believe, otherwise what's the point? I enjoyed it so much in fact we've booked it again tomorrow night, and will pay for it.

As others have said, I take the occasional offer of a free hotel & meal because I don't make money any other way and, well, why wouldn't you. And as I always say when I haven't paid, it's up to you whether to read or ignore it.

Anonymous said...

You might be completely impartial (although I don't believe that's possible when your bill is being paid by the people serving you), but you know the argument as well as anyone else. I don't blame you for accepting freebies, by the same token you can't blame people for being suspicious about reviews published from that same freebie. The only way to remove any doubt or suspicion is to not publish reviews of free meals. If it was truly a great meal then presumably you'll want to go back and pay yourself, so why not review that other visit, along with pic of the the recipe as you normally do, thereby removing all doubt and suspicion.

Chris Pople said...

I understand what you're saying about freebie posts, and completely understand, but I still say I'd be mad to turn down an offer of a free meal and stay in a fantastic hotel. Also I think most "reviews" of hotels in even quite glossy magazines are comped by the hotel - not that it makes it any better, just that if it's good enough for them...

By way of a contrast the same PR company that invited me to the Zetter also invited me here a few years ago:


...and that didn't work out perfectly for anyone (paragraph 8 is about the restaurant).

Anyway points taken, but there'll be plenty of reviews in future where I pay the bill, just like there always have been, and I will allow myself the indulgence of the odd comped meal, just like I always have.

Anonymous said...

I have no doubt whatsoever that all the 'glossies' hotel and restaurant reviews are fully comped, so I never read them or pay any attention if I do.

For the record I do believe you're impartial, based on what I can gather from your reviews an twitter feed over the years. Also kudos for engaging in this debate and not just ignoring or not allowing comments. It would be unfair for you to get lumped in with the many freebie hunting bloggers.

Chris Pople said...

Thanks, appreciated. And please do try the Zetter - hopefully you'll see there is value even in comped reviews.

Gavin said...

"This grand old Clerkenwell hotel..."

Oi, young'un, the place has only been there for 20 years. Some of us remember the happy stroll to the Zetters HQ to hand in our pools coupon and the half-crown stake.

Alex C said...

Stuff 'em Chris.
You don't owe any of us a bean.
We've had years of fun to read reviews - many of which have lead to decent restaurant choices. So long as you're clear when a meal has been comped (as you do) and try to remain impatial (which you seem to) then go for it.


Diana Lopes said...

Photos looks awesome and thanks for the informations!