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Four volumes of SUITCASE Magazine, with a new issue delivered to your door each quarter
With the legendary Smithfield Market at its heart, Clerkenwell is an area built on gastronomic prowess. It was the site of London’s first gastropub, The Eagle, and is a playground for some of its leading chefs (Anna Hansen chose the area for her wildly successful second restaurant The Modern Pantry). St John, the brainchild of British icon Fergus Henderson, presides over the area like a grand master. 22 years after opening, it remains high on the list of the World’s Best Restaurants and is still a meeting spot for artists, chefs and the foodie crowd.
Bordered by the bustle of Holborn and the City’s skyscrapers, Clerkenwell’s cobbled streets and ivy-clad Georgian townhouses offer a quiet escape into the London of yesteryear. It’s like a more grown-up version of Shoreditch or Bethnal Green, overflowing with the cutting-edge food restaurants, refurnished warehouses, markets, bars and tattoo parlours characteristic of any gentrified East London enclave – yet it strikes a more elegant, sophisticated note. Begin your journey on the bustling drag of Exmouth Market before wandering towards Smithfield, with its lilac vaulted ceilings and boisterous butchers. Stop for a pint or two at one of the city’s oldest pubs, The Jerusalem Tavern. And always, always make room for St John’s offal dishes, own-label wines and custard-stuffed doughnuts.
If you’ve visited the original Berber & Q beneath the arches of Haggerston station, you’ll know it as a modern Middle Eastern grill house serving slow-cooked, charred meats alongside zesty mezze and natural wine. Its low-lit, bustling interior, scorching flavours, great music and casual, walk-in atmosphere turned it into one of East London’s most talked-about restaurants. Considering all that critical triumph, it’s not surprising that Berber & Q’s offshoot branch, nestled in the pedestrianised stretch of Exmouth Market, was an instant hit. It is smaller, cosier and a little quieter than its predecessor, but retains all of the same warmth. Diners fill the yellow-tiled bar knocking back cocktails spiked with rose water and spices, while the exposed brick walls are hung with lavish Moroccan rugs, copper and chipped Middle Eastern street signs.
The food is intense and comforting, with a grill in the open kitchen churning out the two flame-licked stars of the menu – sizzling lamb shawarma and rotisserie chicken with garlic yoghurt. There are also delicious pitas (stuffed with lamb kofta, charred cauliflower or smoked brisket with tahini and pickles) and steaming rice bowls with lamb kofta, garlic yoghurt and parsley, fired onions and tahini. As for the mezze, fill the table with creamy labneh with pistachio and dill, marinated peppers with whipped feta, blackened aubergine with anchovy, or the ‘chilli, chilli and chilli’ – a ménage à trois of spice offset by cooling yoghurt. All of this slips down perfectly with a bottle of sour, nutty orange wine.
With its white frontage and fluttering ‘nori’ curtains, Sushi Tetsu could easily be mistaken as a modest, run-of-the-mill Japanese restaurant. And yet, bagging a seat here is near impossible. In fact, the waiting list is usually a couple of months long. The reason? Critics claim it to be the best sushi in London. Every piece is prepared by ex-Nobu chef Toru Takahashi, who stands behind the wooden counter masterfully arranging perfectly marbled fish and glistening clusters of yielding, subtly sweet rice. Looking on are the guests – just six people at a time – who sit at the bar sipping ice-cold beer awaiting the next dish, which is placed on a bamboo leaf and intended to be eaten by hand. Predictably, the bill will be pretty steep. But it’s less a meal and more a sensory experience – and one which will stay with you long after the sake hangover has faded.
The founders of The Zetter Townhouse cocktail lounge took the words right out of our mouths: drenched in dark velvets, oil paintings, sumptuous furniture, creaky wooden floors and gothic blossoms, this elegant boozer does indeed feel “like the residence of a most beloved and eccentric Great Aunt.” The famous drinks here are dreamed up by drinks specialist Tony Conigliaro, who uses homemade cordials, herbal remedies and extracts to celebrate Clerkenwell’s distilling heritage (the first distillery is said to have opened here as early as 1747). As for the food, small plates of classics like scotch egg, duck liver parfait, potted mackerel and sausage rolls are the perfect sustenance for a long evening spent sampling the cocktail menu.
The duo behind the critically acclaimed steak-and-cocktail chain Hawksmoor opened the first Foxlow in 2013. Soft lighting, navy wood-panelled walls, leather booths and Mad Men-esque furniture gives the place a tailored, casually elegant edge – which suits the diverse clientele of suited-up City folk to young foodies and painfully cool Hackney couples with babies strapped to their chests. While well-sourced steaks are still a big draw, the menu is filled with a diverse range of vibrant comfort food. Think beetroot salads, five-pepper squid or pork and fennel meatballs to start, followed by hake with white beans, saffron and roasted tomatoes, jerked pork with apple slaw, or roast chicken with garlic and lemon-pocked broccoli. The carefully curated wine list is affordable and interesting, while super amiable staff make ordering that second plate of macaroni cheese a joy.
Perched just across from Smithfield Market, this airy space heartily embraces just about every interior trend within a ten-mile radius: exposed bulbs, brick walls, ironic pop art and neon signage perfectly channelling industrial-chic. But if you can take all of that with a pinch of salt, it’s hard not to love this place. As well as a great selection of beers, cocktails and wine, Ask For Janice specialises in seasonal sharing plates made using local British ingredients (as far as sticking to trends, this is a pretty good one). Dinners are all about filling the table with clattering plates of mussels with cider; chorizo, sherry and sourdough; bavette steak or black-bean hummus, while long brunches and lazy lunches can be spent feasting on baked eggs with merguez sausage, smoked-salmon hash and avocado on toast with ricotta and pomegranate molasses.
The smallest of Caravan’s three locations, this Exmouth Market spot sports a clean monochromatic palette, with a terrace for visitors to observe the bustle of the daily market while sipping their freshly roasted espressos. All four owners hail from New Zealand, and have brought a slice of their native brunch culture to London with dishes like organic oat and quinoa porridge with salted-coconut yoghurt, sourdough with thyme-roasted mushrooms and kapnisto sausage, aubergine purée and poached eggs. In the evening, the place flickers in candlelight, making way for house-made gin and tonics, cocktails and dishes inspired by global flavours: baby gem, anchovies and buttermilk; Burmese chicken salad with lime and peanuts; lamb meatballs with apricot couscous; cumin-baked celeriac and Norwegian cod with cockles, olives and wild garlic aioli. And be sure to leave space for the chocolate torte with olive-oil ice cream, almonds and smoked sea salt.
Moro sparked something of a revolution when it first opened in 1997. It brought bright Moorish flavours to the masses, with people lining up to share its dishes studded with fresh herbs, pomegranate seeds and yoghurt. Almost 20 years on, it remains a culinary institution with some of London’s best-known chefs having cut their teeth in its kitchen. The clean, polished interior is lively as ever, with tables and chairs spilling out onto Exmouth Market on warmer days. Next door is Moro’s cheeky younger sibling, Morito. This bright restaurant, centred around a tangerine-coloured bar, is the smaller and more informal of the two, churning out zesty cocktails and a constantly evolving menu of carefully constructed small plates such as plaice with capers and mint, fried chickpeas with tahini yoghurt, deep-fried rabbit with rose harissa and spiced lamb crumbled over cloud-like whipped aubergine.
Though it was restored in 2012, The Quality Chop House has retained all of the masculine, acutely British charm of its 19th-century past. The menu changes daily based on what fresh produce is delivered in the morning, with the focus on sustainable, locally sourced ingredients. Steak night is on a Tuesday, while what is arguably one of London’s best roasts is served on a Sunday. Among the original mahogany booths, black-and-white tiled floors, foggy antique mirrors and glazed windows, visitors can enjoy creative spins on classic, meat-centric British cooking: mackerel crudo with crème fraiche and chickweed; game, prune and pistachio terrine; ox cheek with black truffle and parsnip and crumbly mince on dripping toast. And as for their famous multi-cooked confit potatoes, which are the colour of burnt honey and as layered as a tutu? They’ll visit you in your dreams.
Chef Anna Hansen has found fame for her creative fusion cooking at The Modern Pantry, where unusual (often unpronounceable) ingredients unite from around the world. Flavours from the Middle East, Japan, the Mediterranean, Britain and Australia come together in dishes such as roasted stone-bass with samphire and yuzu salsa verde, or chaat-masala cauliflower with spiced goat’s butter, inari tempura, coconut and raisin salsa. There is an upstairs dining room for more formal events, while the main room glints with brass fixtures and cool grey tones, with friendly waiters bustling around in white linen aprons. For all of its fine food and glamourous interiors, The Modern Pantry still manages to be a place you feel you could just pop in to for a quick brunch and glass of the good stuff, or spend an entire afternoon feasting on one of their lavish afternoon teas.
Headed up by the ubiquitous Fergus Henderson (who can often be found inside clinking glasses with the regulars) this legendary London dining destination is as crisp and refreshing now as it was when it opened two decades ago. Located in an old bacon-smoking factory, it is instantly recognisable for its bright, unfussy interior, in-house bakery and menu of lovingly cooked British classics. It is the restaurant which brought offal back from the dead, with signature sharing dishes like roasted bone marrow with parsley salad, devilled kidneys and pig’s head sidling up beside buttery snails, braised mutton with fennel, or quail and aioli. If a hangover is haunting you, one of their bacon sandwiches will bat it away in no time.
At supper time (or let’s face it, lunchtime) make your way down the meticulous list of St John wines and be sure to end things with one of their famous desserts: Eccles cakes with Lancashire cheese, rice pudding with apples or half a dozen spongey, honey-coloured madeleines, baked to perfection. Every meal at St John is a celebration of hearty, classic British fare. It is still the favourite haunt of many of London’s greatest chefs, writers and artists – and probably always will be.
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