Tom finds fun again at a London restaurant where the food is as fine as the surroundings.
Review: Sessions Arts Club
Well, it’s certainly a looker, the Sessions Arts Club in Clerkenwell, housed in old Middlesex Court House. It feels like an elegantly faded Italian palazzo, all soaring arches, ornate cornices and tastefully peeling plaster. ‘It costs a lot of cash to look this old,’ says my friend Matthew, sipping a blood orange tequila sour. He may have a point but the room is one of London’s finest, no doubt about that.
The food, from Florence Knight – a hugely talented chef whose cooking just seems to get better and better – effortlessly matches the surroundings. Ostensibly Italian, she makes no claims as to absolute authenticity. Her personality, though, is stamped on every dish. And what a menu it is. Flavours can be big and bold – a great burnished crab croquette, barely able to contain its oozing, swaggering, salty sea-dog centre. Or crisp pane carasau topped with a mess of bitter cavolo nero, spiked with anchovy and topped with grated bottarga. What could be fishily overwhelming is exquisitely judged, strident but somehow soothing. Potato and eel cake has a splendidly stodgy heft, the chunks of smoked fish lifting the crisp confit potatoes from everyday to exalted. Baby artichokes are deep fried in the Roman style, at once crisp, soft and chewy.
There’s delicacy, too: slivers of raw sea bream sitting in a limpid broth of tomato water swirled with verdant parsley oil. Baby turnips add sweet crunch. A silken purée of cannellini beans, with the most gentle garlic sigh, is topped with grilled, still crunchy friggitelli peppers. Again, texture is every bit as important as taste. In a main dish of squid with calamarata pasta, it’s hard to tell cephalopod from carbohydrate. And that’s the point, the rings bathed in a rich tomato sauce. A sliver of immaculate chocolate tart renders us both speechless, a rare thing indeed.
Service is every bit as fine as the food, as you’d expect from a team trained by the great Jon Spiteri. Warm without being over-familiar, with a genuine knowledge of the food. On a packed Thursday lunch, with the sun streaming in, and the clatter of knife on plate, it reminds me of old, carefree days. Because Sessions Arts Club, like all good restaurants, is not just about the menu. But fun, real fun – the one ingredient that really cannot be bought.
About £40 per head. Sessions Arts Club, Old Sessions House, 24 Clerkenwell Green, London EC1; sessionsartsclub.com