The Clifton has been a fixture of the local community for centuries (established in 1889 in fact) and in last month, local brothers Ben and Ed Robson reopened this beloved pub, bringing a new look and a refreshed attitude to pub drinking and dining to St John’s Wood.
I don’t too often get this far north west – with so much happening in the South East of London there has to be something that really tickles my fancy to make the trek. I’d been given the heads up by a local teacher that he had dropped in last week when there was only bar snacks available (which he was suitably impressed by) and they had now instated a proper restaurant menu and that it would be worth checking out.
After the success of their schnitzel and prosecco bar, Boopshi’s in Fitzrovia, the brothers have been drawn back to their first love. Ben and Ed has breathed life back into The Clifton which had stood empty since its unexpected closure in 2013. It’s been 2 years in the works but it’s all come together.
When the bothers closed Boopshi’s, they also said goodbye to their head chef Karl Calvert. What was lucky is that in the lead up to opening the doors of The Clifton, Karl once again became available and came on boar to head up the kitchen. Once dishes started hitting the table I knew there was someone other than just another pub chef cooking, Karl has had experience in Providores, Beef & Brew & Caravan and brings punchy flavours and a playful style into this casual setting. The New Zealander describes his cooking as eclectic; he is driven by a delight in quality and unusual ingredients. Too right.
Beer is also very important to these guys as you notice when you walk through the front doors. The beer menu features a diverse array of local and craft beers on tap and Ben and Ed plan to brew their own Clifton beer which I’m looking forward to trying. I necked a pew pints of Fourpure’s Juicebox and Shapeshifter which caught my eye on tap. This is accompanied by a strong wine list which is a collaboration between the boys and Raul Diaz (wine sommelier and expert on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch).
I had hear many a good thing about the Haggis sausage rolls with homemade ketchup so it was a solid place to kick things off. The pastry was perfectly flaky and the haggis filling was rich, delicious and not overpowering.
K.B.C. (Korean Boneless Chicken wings) are a beer drinker’s delight. No need for crisps or pork scratchings here.
The clam, baby octopus and ndjua was fresh and tasty with plenty of dipping juice for the bread under the seafood. The ndjua (a spicy paste-like spreadable sausage) which is something I’ve generally only encountered on pizzas really lifted the dish to give it a decent kick.
The 7-a-day-salad was a revelation and pretty much a must-order whether you think you’ve had your daily dose of greens or not.
White asparagus, guanciale, pheasant egg and capers was a perfect balance of flavours with the egg being a decadent edition that my dining companion demolished.
One of my favourite dishes from the starters was the hand-picked Devon crab toast with watermelon. The creaminess of the dish, the watermelon cutting through it all and the seasoning all on point.
On to the mains and the poached trout salad, purple sprouting broccoli, quinoa, fregola, chilli and pangrattato might have to be one of the best value dishes I’ve seen on a London menu for quite some time. All this for just £8.50. Enough to fill you up and take home for lunch tomorrow.
The Tingly Dell pork chop, almonds, hispi cabbage and chips was my personal pick. No chips but the dish didn’t really need them. The pork seemed to have been sous vide then thrown on the grill for a bit of colour. It would make sense as to how juicy the meat was when I cut through it.
8oz Rose County Farm rib eye with chips, snail butter and baby watercress was cooked medium rare as requested and while never having encountered this type of butter before it certainly added an extra level of flavour to the meat.
Onto desserts and we all shared the lemon and champagne syllabub, raspberries and granola plus the yoghurt and rhubarb fool, toasted almonds and orange blossom honey. Both are very simple desserts and a smart move in the first few weeks while they ensure they get the starter and mains perfect on every attempt. I’m sure on my next visit I’ll find the desserts to have stepped up a notch.
The Clifton pub is going to do exceptionally well. The fit out is cosy with different areas to spread out in from the bar, gazebo and restaurant. The cooking was stunning and being able to taste a full array of dishes, each first mouthful popped and made you realise the chef knows exactly what he’s doing. I look forward to returning again very soon.
Address: The Clifton – 96 Clifton Hill, London NW8 0JT. http://thecliftonnw8.com