The Clock House is in the building formerly occupied by Drakes of Ripley, but was renamed in January 2017 after the former owners, the husband and wife team of Steve and Serena Drake, divorced in late 2016. The head chef is now Fred Clapperton, formerly a chef under the old regime, and who has worked here since 2012. After initially losing its Michelin star in 2017 amidst the turmoil, the newly renamed Clock House regained its star in the 2018 guide. The restaurant is in a Georgian town house with a clock hanging outside, in the main high street of the pretty and prosperous town of Ripley. The room has exposed wooden beams and is carpeted, so noise levels are acceptable. Tables are reasonably well spaced and a decent size, so there is none of the “sardines in a tin” feel that many London dining rooms suffer from. There was a choice of two tasting menus on the evening that we visited, and we opted for the shorter one at £65 (a slightly longer one was £75). A full pescatarian and vegetarian alternative menu was available.
The wine list was quite extensive, though the website listing had some irritatingly ambiguous labelling in several places at the time of writing. “Volnay 2015” as a wine description does not narrow things down much, and neither does “Pommard 2014” – what are the growers? “Rioja Alta 2001” is scarcely better – was this the Vina Ardanza, with a retail price of £45, or Rioja Alta 904, which costs £61, or Rioja Alta 890, which costs £132? The list started at £28 and went up to £695, with 230 full bottles on offer and a median price of £73. The mark-up to retail price averaged 2.7, which is not bad, especially to those of us used to London prices. Example labels were Hush Heath Chardonnay 2015 at £45 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £20, the excellent Hatzidakis Assyrtiko 2015 at £50 compared to its retail price of £20, and Domaine Charton, Mercurey 2015at £75 for a wine that will set you back £42 in a shop. At the posh end of the list, Clos Mogador 2007 was £172 compared to its retail price of £80, and Chateau Angelus 1995 was £565 for a bottle whose current market value is £349. The bottles are labelled properly on the physical list, and I mentioned the website issues to the sommelier, who is planning to fix this.
The meal began with some nibbles. A Gouda cheese biscuit with cauliflower cream and onion gel was a very nice start to the meal, having delicate texture and plenty of cheese flavour (16/20). This was followed by, for non-carnivores, a mushroom croquette with mushroom mayonnaise and hen of the wood mushroom powder, which was also excellent (16/20). Carnivores were offered compressed crispy pig with red pepper powder and a piccalilli dip, the latter being made from scratch and being particularly good. The piquant piccalilli, with its pickled chopped vegetables and gentle spice, was a lovely match for the deep-fried pork (16/20). Bread was made from scratch in the kitchen, a choice of white or granary, and both had light texture and tasted very fresh (16/20).
My meal continued with liver parfait with anchovy espuma, smoked croutons, cos lettuce that had been compressed with tarragon, with ewe milk cheese grated on top. This worked well, the rich liver flavour nicely balanced by the lettuce, the croutons adding a different texture (15/20). The vegetarian alternative was tarragon spring salad, which was pleasant but unexciting (14/20)
Asparagus from the Wye valley in Herefordshire came with slow cooked duck yolk, duck ham, hen of the wood mayonnaise and lovage dressing. This was an enjoyable dish, with the asparagus and egg being a classic combination, the earthy flavour of the mushrooms coming through. The asparagus itself did not compare with that from Pertuis in Provence, which I recently ate at both Hedone and The Ritz, but this was certainly a nice dish (15/20).
Next was monkfish with heritage carrots, carrot purée, Alexander (horse parlsey) and Alexander foam, and puffed rice with lentils in vadouvan (French curry) sauce. The monkfish was cooked well but the carrot purée seemed to have rested too long on a hot plate and had dried out at the edges. The crispy puffed rice was a good idea, brining an extra texture to the dish, and the gentle spice of the vadouvan worked well with the monkfish. The heritage carrots tasted unusual but were interesting, but even for me that were quite salty (14/20).
Braised lamb came as both shoulder and loin, with seasonal Jersey Royal potatoes, burnt aubergine purée, peas warmed in shiso oil and garlic and caraway seed foam. The lamb was nicely cooked and had good flavour, and the Jersey Royals were carefully cooked and excellent (15/20).
Cheeses were all-British and were in nice condition served with a variety of chutneys.We tried two different desserts. Pineapple with pistachio cake featured white chocolate and rather dry pistachio, the pineapple itself pleasant, the white chocolate decent enough (13/20). Only marginally better was chocolate with goat cheese sorbet, olive oil emulsion and orange jelly. I thought the emulsion was an actively bad idea, but the chocolate was fine and the goat cheese sorbet worked better than I was expecting (13/20).
A coffee menu was offered, the supplier being a company called Coffee Bay in Surbiton, and the featured coffee being from Papua New Guinea. I have to say the double espresso that I tried was pretty ordinary, lacking in flavour. Service was very good, with dishes arriving at a steady pace, and topping up of drinks and bread was handled smoothly. The bill came to £140 a head, admittedly with a fair amount of wine. If you ordered the shortest menu and coffee and shared a modest bottle then a typical cost per head might be around £95. Overall I enjoyed the Clock House, which has good cooking and nice staff. The desserts were the weakest part of the meal, but that is very common in UK restaurants.