I really like Clerkenwell. If I could (and realistically I can’t) choose where I bought my first property, Clerkenwell would be high up the list. I don’t think you’d hear too many people saying that but I would for the following reasons. It is one of the only areas of London that you can get a feel for ye olde London with the cobbled streets, pokey alleyways and age old buildings whilst being amidst some excellent modern architecture. And over the last few years there have been some truly fantastic restaurants popping up. Many are situated around the historic Smithfield meat Market, where they source their meat, which guarantees good quality. I became familiar with the area after my dad took me to Smiths of Smithfield for my 18th birthday. My boyfriend and I then ran a club night for a year, appropriately titled ‘Beef Boogie On’ at a pub underneath the meat Market. Clerkenwell is famous for St John, Hix Oyster & Chop House, Vinoteca, The Modern Pantry and Fabric nightclub, where I have spent many an evening on the tiles.
Newer establishments include Bistro du Vin and North Road. But the newest takes the form of a hotel and bar, The Zetter Townhouse. It is the newest sibling of The Zetter, which is situated a stones throw in front. I was invited to try the cocktails and bar food so thought I’d take my boyfriend for a treat on his birthday. I had seen pictures and snuck a glance from the toilet window at The Modern Pantry so knew to expect quirky decor and lots of taxidermy. I wasn’t disappointed upon entering. The furniture is all mismatched and one chair had a back made of an old potato sack. You could barely see the rich red wall paper behind the paintings and picture frames that lined the whole wall. Old books grace the bookcases and the staff wear excellent old work wear uniforms. I was surprised that the bar wasn’t busier for a Wednesday evening, especially in a very office oriented area. But the bar is dark and cosy and perhaps more suited to a cold evening.
We browsed the cocktail menu and chose the Twinkle and Les Fleurs du Mal to start us off. The Twinkle was a very delicate cocktail made with Wyborowa vodka, elderflower cordial & Perrie Jouet champagne.
The Les Fleurs du Mal tasted too much of absinthe for my liking. I find it a very over powering flavour and as I really don’t like aniseed, it’s not for me. It did look pretty though.
I expected the cocktails to be great as Tony Conigliaro from 69 Colebrook Row heads up the bar. I knew that they wouldn’t be run of the mill rubbish and they weren’t. All house cocktails are priced at £8.50, which I think it pretty reasonable for the quality and the surroundings.
After finishing our drinks, we were then moved to a table better equipped for eating and shown the bar menu. At this point I wasn’t expecting what we ordered to be great – I rarely have good bar food. But we chose quite a few dishes and hoped for the best. After all, the menu didn’t look like your usual bar menu. The dishes were also quite reasonably priced – between £4 – £10 each.
The squid was delicious – very tender and not a hint of chewiness, something I find inexcusable. Whitebait was just good old delicious whitebait but lacked a dollop of mayonnaise. We borrowed some from the deep fried olives stuffed with anchovies, which were also delicious. I’ve never heard of deep frying olives before but with the saltiness of the anchovies it really worked.
The road beans & lovage pesto risotto had a great texture but neither of us like celery and we couldn’t get past this taste – so this dish wasn’t a resounding success for us.
We ordered another two cocktails during the meal, The Flintlock and the Koln Martini. Both were practically pure alcohol, delicious but very strong. We sipped and then decided that we had been defeated. Drinking at The Zetter Townhouse is just as much about the experience as the drinks – they go to great lengths to retain authenticity. The waitress brought a little tincture bottle to the table, squeezed the pipette and squeezed a drop into The Flintlock. There is probably no need for this but it added to the experience and I enjoyed it.
We polished off most of the dishes and I have to say that I was very impressed with the quality of food, it is definitely restaurant standard. It’s not the place to go if you’re expecting a big meal to yourself as all of the plates are small but sharing small plates is something that I really enjoy. I never used to though, oh no. I used to think that restaurants used small plates as an excuse to charge the same price for a smaller portion. But those were the days where La Tasca was popular and generally proper restaurants hadn’t caught on. But if the food is to a high standard, I’m happy.
We were extremely full but still managed to fit in pudding. The only options were the ‘cake of the day’, which was a pineapple upside down cake, and a plate of chocolate truffles. But despite the savoury dishes being fantastic, I was pretty disappointed with the cake. It was dry, cold and had a pretty random dollop of crème fraiche on the side. I didn’t polish it off, which is unusual for me. But then are people really expecting great desserts in a bar? My boyfriend is allergic to pineapple so opted for the chocolate truffles, which were very delicious and probably the better option. I would have thought that the standard would be consistent throughout. I imagine those into their desserts have been a bit disappointed. But the dodgy dessert would definitely not deter me from going back for more cocktails and grub. Don’t shout at me for wishing the (somewhat nonexistent) summer away but I look forward to a few cosy drunken winter evenings at The Zetter Townhouse.
The Zetter Townhouse
49-50 St. Johns Square
020 7324 4545