Chef Carl Clarke joined the HIX empire in January, having enjoyed spells at Roganic, Belvedere, Café Anglais and The Clarence in Dublin. He’s a creative genius with a passion for pop-ups and punk rock, a fusion he let loose on the hungry East End last year with Rock Lobsta and The English Launderette. He’s also the UK Chilli Champion. On the last Sunday of February he’ll be serving up his perfect roast dinner at the Cornish Grill pop-up in Farringdon, drawing on the influences of Cornwall, foraging, old school British boozers and of course… the anti-establishment.
Carl loves wild, local food. It’s British, sustainable and exciting. And best of all it’s showcased in his menu for the Cornish Grill Sunday roast pop-up at the Redhook later this month. “I thought it would be quite fun to kill, catch and pick the majority of the menu,” he tells me, bright eyed and bushy tailed on a chilly Saturday morning, “the world’s your larder”. Prize of the pantry will be venison, which Carl is off to stalk on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall just days before he puts it on the plate.
Coming from a big Irish family living in a rough part of Birmingham, Carl spent a good deal of his childhood in pubs. “When I used to go to these working-class pubs as a kid, there were always these snacks on the bar, pickled onions, really sharp cheddar, roast potatoes. That was free food, for people who couldn’t afford to feed themselves during the week. They’d come to the pub on Sunday for a treat.” Those days may be forgotten now, but they’re the inspiration for his opener of ‘Sunday pub snacks’. There’s jerky made from aged Galloway underblade beef by Billy Franks, ‘pickleback’ onions steeped in bourbon and pickling liquor and Cornish Black rare breed pork scratchings with an apple and meadowsweet (a floral herb similar to elderflower) dipping sauce.
“Crispy onions are food heroin. Who doesn’t like crispy onions? Nice and British.”
– Chef Carl Clarke
The starter comes in the form of smoked Looe scallops, served alongside smoked treacle bread with Cornish salt and whipped butter. Made from beautifully dense smoked flour, black treacle, honey and Irish oats, the soda bread was perhaps the most talked about thing when it appeared on the menu at The English Launderette. The scallops are cured in molasses and salt then cold smoked on the roof of Selfridges, above the famous department store’s restaurant, champagne and caviar bar opened by Mark Hix in 2010. Lime and lavender vinegar, low in acidity and almost like a cordial, goes tremendously with fish, and paired with the scallops the dish is not far off a ceviche.
“There are two things I don’t think you can do posh, breakfast and Sunday lunch. Sunday lunch has to be generous and it has to be filling. It’s the one time when even very busy people can sit down together and have a good old munch.”
It might be hard to tell with snow on the ground but Spring is in the air and in Carl’s kitchen this means early flowering broad bean tips and ramson (wild garlic). A keen forager, Carl has his secret spots up and down the country where he returns time and time again, and he’s not the only one with a taste for the indigenous. Free to roam as they please, the Cornish Game fallow deer thrive on a diet of berries and high-protein, energy-rich rape greens. Normally very lean, these creatures have a layer of fat, unusual for venison, which makes for a fantastic steak.
“I’m inspired by what the animal eats, what its environment is. Deer love sweet things, which is reflected in the rose hip jam, and the rape greens and ramson make for a nice rounded finish.”
It is essential to respect the animal you’re cooking, perhaps even more so when you’ve hunted and killed it yourself. Traditionally, ‘up north’, if a family were cooking a leg of lamb for Sunday lunch they’d also braise the neck and eat it in the week. Drawing on this fine heritage for inspiration, Carl is serving the venison with two ‘family-style’ side dishes perfect for sharing. The first, a ‘shin & raspberry stout pudding’, uses a lesser cut from the deer to make what is essentially a very rich, slightly tart shepherd’s pie.
The second side is strictly reserved for the classics: roast potatoes (cooked in smoked Pitt Cue Co. pork fat), Cornish root vegetables (with East London honey) and Yorkshire puddings. No sooner had I mentioned Yorkshires than a wry grin bestowed itself on Carl’s face. “The gauntlet’s been set hasn’t it? It’s a challenge but I’m willing to take it.” It’s true, the Yorkshire puddings have become the ‘omelette challenge’ of the Cornish Grill pop-ups. We’ve seen Alyn Williams and Wesley Smalley put in some stellar efforts and like all top chefs Carl has a few tricks up his sleeve.
“It’s a bit of a Hixy Yorkshire pudding recipe I’ll be doing. Not too many eggs and made the night before. The batter should be the pouring consistency of single cream. You want to cook it in a fat that has a high burn temperature. Beef dripping is perfect, whereas duck fat will just burn.”
The dessert, like so much of the rest of the menu, is a celebration of Cornwall. Sea-buckthorn is a bright orange berry that grows on thorny bushes on the Cornish coastline. It has a very high acidity and, purportedly, very good for you, with high levels of vitamin C. The Swedish drink it as medicine and until recently it was only available here through chemists. Carl will be serving a sea-buckthorn posset, with a sea-buckthorn curd, sea-buckthorn jelly, sea-buckthorn sorbet and… chocolate crumbs, all served up in a glass. “With its orange-lemon taste it’s really refreshing. It’s a real palate-cleanser.”
Just as he did with Rock Lobsta and The English Launderette, Carl will be bringing music, food and art together for his guest spot on the pass at the Cornish Grill. Asteroids (formerly FC Kahuna) will on the decks from 2pm and rumour has it they’ll be joined by ‘Mr. Nice’ Howard Marks, who’ll spin a couple of discs himself. “It has to be punk rock, it has to be leftfield. We’ve all got serious jobs at the end of the day, so we try and make our pop-ups as fun as we possibly can”. Unusually for Carl he signs off with an understatement. ‘Fun?’, I ask myself, ‘it’s gonna be a f—ing festival’.
The Cornish Grill Sunday roast will be served from 12.30pm on Sunday 26 February and there will no turning tables so you can take your time and enjoy the feast. Tickets cost £40, wine pairing (4 glasses) an additional £22, and can be bought here. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to have a full roast dinner cooked by one of Britain’s most creative chefs. That menu in full:
CARL CLARKE – CHILLI CHAMP
The Cornish Grill at Redhook
Sunday 26 February
Grey Goose aperitif – Ruby Red Royale
(Grey Goose vodka, Ruby Red grapefruit juice, elderflower)
Grey Goose Bloody Mary buffet
(DIY your favourite or bartender’s best)
Sunday pub snacks
Smoked treacle bread, Cornish salt, whipped butter
Smoked Looe scallops, fresh curds, nasturtium shoots, crispy onions, lime & lavender vinegar
Cornish game wild fallow deer, rose hip, rape & ramson
Shin & raspberry stout pudding
Yorkshire pudding, ‘Pitt Cue Co.’ smoked dripping roasties, Keveral Farm roots & east London honey