The very nature of subjectivity is such that agreement and dissent sit side by side. I’ve seen, as I’m sure you have, the work of an artist or a West End play described as both genius and dross by critics as qualified to comment as one another. In the case of Clipstone – the second, more recent offering of the team behind Portland – reviews by Jay Rayner and Fay Maschler were hagiographic. The magazine, GQ, garlanded the venue with the 2017 restaurant of the year award.
For my part, I can’t get on board with the praise. You remember the film, La La Land? With he of the chiselled jaw (to which, ironically enough, there was a mixed response). I could label Clipstone: “Mark Up Land”. Lord above. I paid £251 for three shared plates (two large and one small), two desserts, two half bottles of semi-decent wine and two coffees. I was metaphorically turned upside down; my week’s wages shaken from my pockets. To put the matter in perspective, the Monday just before I dined at Clipstone, I grabbed a last minute table at Lorne and spent £187 on six courses of food, a stunning bottle of 2011 Schioppettino from Friuli and two coffees.
Much worse than the cost was the noise: bass-heavy muzak that caused the voices of the many guests to rise and rise in a continually-growing cacophony. The situation was exacerbated by the crampedness of the tables. A good 30 covers were jammed into a space much more suitable to 20. The table of two next to my own was so close as to virtually form a table for four. It was almost comical.
The three plates of food were well-conceived and tasty. They comprised medium-rare beef slices with some vegetables, a sumptuous plate of pheasant with crispy skin (the star of the show) and a fried roll of pig cheek. Given these dishes were shared, it was only part way towards a real feast. On the liquid front, the first half bottle of wine – Wild Boy by the infamous Jim Clenenden – was a real joy. The second – a pedestrian red Burdundy of minimal repute – would have come in at £84 for the whole bottle had I not ordered a half version. That’s some mark up.
My dining partner and I were fairly well-looked after the the mini team of staff in our section of the restaurant. It was occasionally hard to pin down a person to interact with but, when experiencing service, there was plenty of warmth and patience. And they were clearly working their socks off. One waitress looked supremely shattered (again: too many covers).
If I had to guess, I reckon that Jay took his meal at Clipstone during the day. I can picture lunch being a more mellow affair, with lighter background music and conversations held at sensible volumes.
Ending as I began, you could easily love or hate Clipstone. I was disappointed, not least for feeling cramped all evening. If you can’t handle close-knit seating, or have intentions towards cost control, I’d give it a miss.
5 Clipstone Street
by C Ley