Cloth, London EC1: ‘It’s really quite special’ – restaurant review | Grace Dent on restaurants

Cloth, a hot, hyped restaurant near Smithfield Market and just behind St Bartholomew’s church in central London, does not open at all at weekends, but, unusually in hospitality these days, it is open on Mondays, as well as every day through to Friday. It sets out this fact pleasingly plainly on its website. Cloth’s clarity on this matter is refreshing, because, despite my job as a restaurant critic, it seems I spend far less time eating out than I do barking at my laptop about this trend to be cagey, opaque and mostly shut. “But when are you actually open?” I regularly find myself quacking. “When, when, when?”

The modern, cool restaurant, you see, prefers to offer page after online page of TS Eliot-style tracts about the chef’s culinary journey and the restaurant’s attitudes to biodiverse composting, with no mention at all of what point in the week they switch on the stoves, which often turns out to be around Thursday lunchtime. At Cloth, however, you very much get the feeling that they are sweeping away all that nonsense and leaving behind the bare bones of good, modern British hospitality. Namely: a table, a great glass or two of wine, and an interesting, hearty, ever-changing menu featuring duck terrine with pickled walnut, comte tart, monkfish with Cornish mussels and sea beet, Amalfi lemon tart and a heavenly chocolate mousse with salted caramel ice-cream.

‘Good, modern British hospitality’: Aylesbury duck terrine with chicory and pickled walnut at Cloth, London EC1.

Cloth takes Dorset crab and mixes it with creamy celeriac and almonds, and it serves Norfolk chicken with creamed potatoes and wild garlic. This is comfort food made with the finest ingredients and cooked with largesse – there is deliberate generosity here with the oil, the cream, the butter and the sweet syrup. There’s no concept, no journey, no servers asking you to name your favourite dishes so far, as if you’ve enrolled in a quiz rather than come for a spot of lunch.

You eat in a Grade II-listed building, behind a black-painted, olde worlde shop frontage in which one could imagine Bagpuss sitting waiting for Emily. This end of Cloth Fair, the street, partly survived the Great Fire of London and, decor-wise, very little seems to have been done to this space since, apart from maybe the addition of a few strategically placed marble tables, and walls painted a muted bottle-green and hung with dusty cartography.

Cloth’s tagliarini of sardine, fennel and smoked chilli.

Owners Joe Haynes and Ben Butterworth are wine importers, both with their own fields of expertise – roughly speaking, Butterworth leans more towards France and Haynes to Germany. Neither of them is a slick, brash, front-of-house person; instead, they are earnestly endearing wine-lovers now working alongside chef Tom Hurst, formerly of the Marksman, Levan and Brawn, to create something really quite special.

You may remember I said that Cloth was hot and hyped, but rarely in the real world does that indicate anything tangible, rather than somewhere with a marketing budget to dispense a lot of free meals to freeloaders. From the moment a plate of humble-sounding “house pickles” appeared, however, I realised that Hurst had entered some sort of imperial cheffing phase, because those sweet, miso-soaked mushrooms and sharp, pickled carrots and cucumber were clearly not spooned from a jar, but rather fermented with the utmost care; they were especially delicious with a round of oysters in an apple dashi and a plate of housemade bread.

Next came buffalo mozzarella with white peach, pine nuts and mint, which was far more profound than the sum of its parts, and a bizarre-sounding but marvellous bowl of chunky bull’s heart tomato in a silky, pale, stonkingly good tonnato sauce that was vibrant with anchovy.

Cloth’s Amalfi lemon tart: ‘There is nothing hokey or disappointing here.’

Cloth’s is an understated menu that, on paper, I’d probably never rush across town for. The lines “longhorn rump with roast onion” and “Cornish gurnard with asparagus” do not give much away, but that onion is caramelised, soft in all the right places and charred in others, and comes atop a hunk of rare beef surrounded by a “jus” that, let’s be honest, was more an actual gravy with depth and heft, through which you’d quite happily drag espelette-peppered chips. The mush of crunchy seasonal asparagus and fresh peas beneath the golden-skinned, perfectly judged gurnard was bathed in an exemplary vin jaune sauce.

There’s nothing hokey, disappointing or out of a tin at Cloth, and my only regrets are not ordering two rounds of those pickles and agreeing to share the mousse; and now, informing even more people about this rather buzzy restaurant that, like almost nowhere wonderful inside the M25 right now, is actually open on Mondays and Tuesdays. Cloth blazes bright and fast all week long, serving the highest standards of modern British cooking and a nerdy wine list, so they deserve Saturdays off to wash their aprons and Sundays to rest, like gods.

  • Cloth 44 Cloth Fair, London EC1, 020-8143 0345. Open Mon 5-10pm, Tues-Fri noon-10pm. From about £45 a head à la carte; set lunch menu £24 for two course, £29 for three, all plus drinks and service

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