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Birthday Feasting at Clipstone

Birthdays are a big deal in the Lim household. In the days preceding a birthday dinner, I happily embrace austere supermarket meal deals and minimal pasta-based dinners so as to enjoy myself fully on the big day. This stomach-preparing technique came in handy on B's birthday at Clipstone. Like its sister establishment Portland, Clipstone is named after the street it's located on - fitting for a joint that describes itself as a 'neighbourhood restaurant'. Clipstone Street itself is fairly insipid. One of the capillaries that branches off the great arteries of the Euston Road and Oxford Street, it's at the base of the BT Tower, a quagmire of office blocks, pubs and betting shops. The eponymous restaurant, however, is a different beast, and one that refuses to conform to its environs. Through a heavy door and fluttering curtains is a little oasis, illumined by candlelight and gentle chatter. 

Clipstone is one of those admirable places whose menu - both set and à la carte - revolves around what's in season. Personally I think that it's a sensible as well as exciting way to structure a menu - I like knowing that what I'll get next time will probably be quite different from this visit. On this occasion, we were starving from a day unfortunately spent in classes and quickly settled on the set 'feasting' menu. Fewer choices to make, more food for your money - what's not to love?

The feasting menu is exactly what I love in a meal - seemingly endless dishes that materialise at the table, Hogwarts-style, each one practically a surprise. To start, we mopped up gorgeous lemon-infused olive oil with hunks of sturdy sourdough. Each citrusy bite transported me back to summer in sun-drenched Puglia. Addictive stuff, and unsurprising that we insisted on keeping it on the table right up to dessert.

Sea trout tartare with oyster ponzu and fermented oca root. Fresh and delicate, this tasted of the ocean spray on the seafront, and made me want to jump on a train to Devon.

Lardo di colonnata. This dish was bizarre yet beautiful - a rumpled white handkerchief of cured fat studded with earthy caramelised walnuts, almost impudent in its minimalism and yet making for an extraordinary flavour experience. My first nibble took me back to a childhood spent in the Chinese restaurants in Bayswater. Just like the fat on char siu or crispy pork belly, the lardo tasted silky, faintly porky and melted in the mouth. It wasn't on the feasting menu but I was dead set on ordering it anyway - a good move, as it was easily one of the most striking plates of the evening.

Little roundels of raw Yorkshire hogget with acidic sheep's yoghurt, sheep's cheese and olive oil - perfectly fine but unspectacular. As a teenager, I was a zealous proponent of meat and cheese at every meal, but times have clearly changed. The hogget was quickly jostled from my memory by the following dazzling non-meat dish...

Yellow sprouting broccoli and rainbow chard bathed in dulse butter with a sprinkling of flaked almonds. Smoky, creamy and crunchy, this was vibrant and completely delicious. I love it when recognisable, everyday vegetables take centre stage, and these were made special and tied together by the butter sauce and smooth broccoli purée. The broccoli was a definite contender for my favourite plate of the night, and one that we had no qualms about licking clean. 

Isle of Mull scallops cooked and served in the shell with cauliflower, pomelo and shiso. I have little to say about these other than that they had a lovely texture, were lots of fun to scoop out of the shell and we devoured them in about five seconds flat. A simple pleasure. (In niche scallop-related news, I recently learned about the significance of the scallop shell in relation to pilgrims and now want to know more about the symbolism. Paging all art historians, help please...)

Tortellini of fennel and ricotta, olives and fermented kumquat. This was an experimental dish, and one that I found interesting but ultimately couldn't decide as to whether it worked or not. The shells of the tortellini were slightly too thick for my liking, while I would have loved more ricotta filling and was uncertain about the kumquat. However, the olive and fennel flavours were nicely balanced and I liked the texture of the toasted buckwheat. On another positive note, these are definitely the cutest tortellini I've had. Isn't the one at the front kind of coquettish? And there I go, ascribing anthropomorphic qualities to a piece of pasta.

Yellow foot chicken with burnt aubergine, radishes, ramsons and seeds. A luxurious plate: I really appreciated the combination of creamy, fatty chicken and peppery, crunchy radishes and garlicky ramsons.

Our waitress described the desserts as the 'nail in the coffin' and oh lord, they were. This savarin with gariguette strawberries and chantilly cream heralded B's birthday and the beginning of a serious food baby for me. There was an interesting interplay between heavy and light here: the actual sponge was unexpectedly heavy, lifted up by the summery, quintessentially Wimbledon flavours of strawberries and cream. 

Lemon meringue tart. Just look at it - it's a knockout. I loved the dazzling yellow colour of the lemon sprinkled with the tiny verdant leaves of basil, which produced a surprisingly thrilling marriage of flavours. The array of textures here was delightful: a crisp, super-thin crust, creamy citrus filling and squidgy, sugary blowtorched meringue topping which resembled lava spilling out of a volcanic vent like in Werner Herzog's Into The Inferno (which, by the way, is worth a watch.) This was a classic with subtle twists, done incredibly well. Initially I was disappointed that the Paris Brest of Instagram fame wasn't on the menu, so it's testament to Clipstone's pastry chef's skills that I left with a big smile on my face and no choux-related regrets. She's clearly a rising star.

Clipstone delivered on every front for B's birthday. We were presented with a seductive meal - one whose dishes were amusing, original and yet classic, and made for a lovely time. B was left full of food and excited for a surprise trip to Hamburg (his present from me, and one I was so relieved to reveal after tortuous months of trying to keep it under wraps!)

And beyond Clipstone...I'd be remiss if I didn't mention our excellent nightcap in The Vault, a speakeasy hidden away in a Soho basement. I loved my Old Fashioned with a coconut butter twist, and B discovered true love in Irish whiskey form. A fine chaser to an excellent meal.

5 Clipstone St
London W1W 6BB

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