Introducing The Clarence Tavern at Kettner’s
The cult east London eatery is now in residence at the iconic Soho institution. Writer Samuel Muston gets the inside scoop
Tuesday 21 June 2022 By Samuel Muston
It’s 1pm at Kettner’s and the restaurant is a hive of activity. Waiters stream from the kitchen with a dizzying array of dishes and drinks: there are vegetable fritters, steaming plates of Stracciatella pasta, pies of all varieties, and a toothsome rib of beef. Forks are pressed into action, dishes assessed, chefs praised. It’s three days before Sam Gleeson, Harry Kaufman and Robert Webster-Shaw take up residency at the storied Soho restaurant, now known as The Clarence Tavern at Kettner’s. Dan Edwards – formerly of Launceston Place, Kensington Place and Quo Vadis – will be its head chef, and Jono Wingfield of Brawn and the We Are Noble Group will be front of house. Housed in the Kettner’s Studio space, the restaurant is open exclusively to Soho House and Soho Friends members.
Despite the tight turnaround – they have had just a week to prepare the space – the trio seems remarkably unruffled. But then that ought not to be much of surprise. They are the higher divinities of the gastropub world – opening restaurants like others open letters. They launched their first, The Anchor & Hope in London’s Southwark, in 2003, having met while working at St John Restaurant. And now, as well as Kettner’s, they also have The Clarence Tavern in Stoke Newington, the Canton Arms in Lambeth, 32 Great Queen Street in Holborn, and The Magdalen Arms in Oxford.
‘First and foremost, it’s all about the ingredients. We go direct to the producers for pretty much everything we buy'
Restaurant critic, Grace Dent, described their mini empire as follows: ‘These are all places that took a central part in crafting the unofficial rulebook of the modern gastropub. It’s perhaps little wonder, then, that an evening at The Clarence gave me a fresh lease of life.’ Unsurprisingly perhaps, they are known for their strong neighbourhood following and as a sort of unofficial canteen for the food world professionals.
They specialise in seasonal British food with a Mediterranean accent. The menu will change daily, reflecting the season and the produce available. Kaufman explains he is conscious that this is a West End restaurant and has arranged the menu as such. ‘First and foremost, it’s all about the ingredients. We go direct to the producers for pretty much everything we buy. We will have a broad selection of dishes on the menu: shoulder of lamb, chicken pies, through to roast turbot with bearnaise sauce.’
Were they tempted to redesign the restaurant? ‘Soho House did ask us if we wanted to, but it’s such a famed restaurant, we just rearranged it slightly.’ So, the heritage burnished mirrors are here, and so too the floral plasterwork. There is rosewood and mahogany, and also a mosaic tiled floor.
‘We are focused on vineyards with great farming practices, biodiversity, and places that create wine with a sense of character’
One enormous change, though, is found in the wine list. These guys have completely rewritten it. ‘We are focused on vineyards with great farming practices, biodiversity, and places that create wine with a sense of character,’ says Gleeson. ‘Alongside that we really want the wines to have a sense of place – that comes from growing local varietals that don’t need lots of intervention.’
The restaurant will be open from breakfast through to dinner, says Webster-Shaw. ‘We’ll mostly be focused on lunch and dinner, but you’ll be able to pop in at any time of the day and we’ll feed you.’
For Kaufman, working in the West End is a bit of a homecoming. ‘There’s something about working in Soho, which is special; it has a certain energy to it. I’ve worked here before, but this feels really buzzy and great. It’s exciting to be back.’
Despite only having a week to prepare, the trio seems pretty sanguine. ‘Once you get going, things have a way of falling into place or at least falling into enough of a place,’ says Webster-Shaw. If their other restaurants are anything to go by, it will not just fall into place, but soar.
To book a table at The Clarence Tavern at Kettner’s, head to the SH.APP.