Thursday 08th December

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Chez Mal, EC1M: restaurant review

| Restaurants | 15/08/2018


Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer & Reviewer

Heading below ground to escape a bustling Clerkenwell simmering from one of the hottest days of one of the hottest years felt like blessed relief.  Darkly lit apart from some mildly jarring neon pop art motifs and empty other than a pair of early evening diners, Malmaison’s Chez Mal restaurant was only an ample air conditioning unit short of Shangri-la.

The contemporary New York-style dining room – as with many spaces that day – was a touch too warm to hinder hidrosis and so, disappointingly, was the #nochill Mamaku Sauvignon Blanc.  Fortunately, that warmth spread elsewhere, to the service of our host Emanuele and to the collective culinary cogs – mostly residing in the noggin of executive chef John Woodward – that whirred in preparing such a balanced and sumptuous summer menu.

We began with nibbles, where the Fougasse & Black Garlic Aioli Dip served a statement of intent.  The Provençal bread elegantly walked a tightrope between substantial and yielding, and modestly downplayed its flavour to allow the mud mask-esque side sauce to bask in the spotlight.  Black garlic pops up more and more regularly on modern menus and it’s easy to see why: weeks of heating draws out the bulb’s syrupy sweetness whilst dampening its powerful punch.  The results in Chez Mal’s aioli were a knockout.  Subtle but as moreish as Andalusian architecture.

IMG_6685For starters, we ummed and ahhed then opted for the overly large and overly rich Signature Summer Salad – whose sautéed chorizo, Beauvale blue cheese and buttermilk ranch dressing inevitably overpowered the lettuce and tomato proletariat – and Ahi Tuna Tartare (right).  The latter was delightfully presented – suggesting the boutique chain would deliver on its intent to “transform food into art” – and flavoured, with the unusually textured fish dish soaking up sweetened soy dressing like a sushi squeegee.  The only arguable misstep was placing a potent wasabi on the same plate as a slug of smashed avocado, creating a high-stakes game of green-glooped Russian roulette.  Fortunately this diner clicked an empty chamber and further perspiration was averted.

IMG_6693Moving to mains, we plumped for the recommended Crab & Sea Scallop Risotto (left) and 300g of Ribeye Steak – the latter’s marbled meaty heft marching into our maws with full-flavoured Truffle & Parmesan Pomme Frites (stemming from pure gluttony) and absolutely fine Wilted Spinach (out of some misplaced sense of propriety).  The Risotto was rammed with impact as crab meat and bisque penetrated the compliant Carnaroli rice like a dirty decapod, leaving prim-and-proper pan-seared scallops and samphire to watch on judgmentally.  They didn’t hang around on the sidelines for long though.  For the insatiable diner, the dish was voluptuously large; for the less ravenous, leave a little behind if you can halt your fork.

IMG_6698Those who save space for afters will be rewarded with desserts as presentationally and palatably agreeable as the plates preceding them.  The Valrhona Chocolate Truffle Torte (right, bottom) was a block of Gaulish decadence, whose illicit wallop demanded the mitigating effects of crème fraîche and raspberries just to keep it from prison.  Meanwhile, the Anglophilic Sticky Toffee Pudding (right, top) implausibly avoided stodginess despite wallowing in an opulent bath of pecan caramel sauce and gazing covetously at a bowl of – finally, suitably cold – vanilla ice cream.  Both were fucking fantastic.

Waddling back up the stairs after dinner, bodies swollen with excellent food at relatively reasonable prices given the location, it was a wonder that hordes of others hadn’t wound their way past Smithfield Market to sample Chez Mal’s wares that night.  Should Woodward and his team continue along this path towards excellence, that will surely change – perhaps forcing them to invest in a climate control system to match the cool of their menu.

Chez Mal is located at Malmaison Hotel, 18-21 Charterhouse Square, Clerkenwell, London EC1M 6AH.  For reservations, head here.  The meal described above featured: Fougasse & Black Garlic Aioli Dip (£5.50); Signature Summer Salad (£8.50), Ahi Tuna Tartare (£13); Crab & Sea Scallop Risotto (£19.50), 300g of Ribeye Steak (£29), Truffle & Parmesan Pomme Frites (£5), Wilted Spinach (£4); Valrhona Chocolate Truffle Torte (£6.50) and Sticky Toffee Pudding (£6.50).  For the full summer menu, click here.

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