Hometown: Glasgow, Scotland
Occupation: Owner and Chef, The Clove Club
Years lived in London: 14
Years worked as a chef: 22
Accolades: Ranked #6 Restaurant in UK, National Restaurant Awards (2016)
Ranked #26 and recipient of Highest New Entry Award, The World’s 50 Best Restaurants (2016)
1 Michelin star (2014-present)
Best Restaurant, BMW Square Meal Awards (2015)
What do you love best about London’s food scene?
The variety and the high standards across the board, from the cult restaurants like Sweetings, like Umut 2000, Black Axe Mangal, Needoo Grill, Tayyabs, Xi’an Impression, to Mayfair boozers like The Guinea Grill, to special occasion places like The Ledbury, still one of the best tables in the world.
Name the top restaurants that you think every visitor to London should try.
Lyle’s: James Lowe’s single-mindedness is Lyle’s star attraction. Beautiful cooking.
Gymkhana for exceptional indian food in a friendly, relaxed Mayfair setting.
Quo Vadis is a jewel in Soho. Go and see seasonal British cooking and common sense from Jeremy Lee, and the amazing illustrations of John Broadley around the menus and walls.
The Ledbury (if you can get a table). Where I earned my stripes.
Describe your “perfect dining out day” in London.
Breakfast at St. John Bread and Wine when needing fortified, with one of their legendary bacon sandwiches.
Lunch at Rochelle Canteen on a sunny day for Anna Tobias’s exemplary cooking, or a dim sum lunch at A.Wong, one of my favorite restaurants anywhere.
Dinner would have to be at my favorite restaurant, Barrafina. Just love what they do.
The Clove Club focuses on using “interesting and often overlooked” British ingredients, as the restaurant’s site says. What are some of your personal favorite ingredients to cook with?
I enjoy using unexpected ingredients in different ways. We boil and debone chicken feet before deep frying them so they puff up like chicharones, which is unusual as a bar snack. We have recently started making a malted barley oil, which we roast monkfish in.
What are some of your favorite places to go to for good cheap, quick eats, and what do you like ordering from there specifically?
Umut 2000 for lamb ribs and Adana.
Mutton roti at Roti King.
Needoo Grill for nihari (Sunday special).
Padella for great pastas.
What’s one dish in London that blew you away and left you wishing you came up with the recipe yourself?
Everything at som saa, Spitalfields. I love it but my fiancée thinks it’s too spicy so we don’t go as often as i would like.
Since it’s London, we have to ask: where do you go for the best Sunday roast?
The Camberwell Arms. Just great cooking, I always want everything on the menu.
What food is your guilty pleasure, and where do you go to get it?
Bao at BAO. Fluffy pillows of deliciousness (but I go for the fried chicken really).
Do you have any favorite watering holes you like to frequent?
Cocktails are always too strong for me but Happiness Forgets is my go-to when I get a hankering for one.
What would you say every visitor must see or do before leaving London?
Have the full tasting menu at The Clove Club. Maybe go to see the Tower of London, too.
Chef McHale’s Shortlist:
The Clove Club, Shoreditch Town Hall, 380 Old Street (Shoreditch); modern British, lunch Tuesday-Saturday, dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.
Sweetings, 39 Queen Victoria Street (The City); seafood, lunch Monday-Friday, closed Saturday-Sunday.
Umut 2000, 551 Green Lanes (Harringay); Turkish, lunch, dinner and late night daily.
Black Axe Mangal, 156 Canonbury Road (Canonbury); Turkish-inspired, dinner Monday-Saturday, brunch Saturday-Sunday.
Needoo Grill, 85-87 New Road (Whitechapel); Indian and Pakistani, lunch and dinner daily.
Tayyabs, 83-89 Fieldgate Street (Whitechapel); Punjabi, lunch and dinner daily.
Xi’an Impression, 117 Benwell Road (Islington); Chinese, lunch and dinner daily.
The Guinea Grill, 30 Bruton Place (Mayfair); British, lunch Sunday-Friday, dinner Monday-Saturday.
The Ledbury, 127 Ledbury Road (Notting Hill); modern British, lunch Wednesday-Sunday, dinner daily.
Lyle’s, 56 Shoreditch High Street (Shoreditch); modern British, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.
Gymkhana, 42 Albemarle Street (Mayfair); Indian, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.
Quo Vadis, 26-29 Dean Street (Soho); modern British, breakfast Monday-Friday, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.
St. John Bread and Wine, 94-96 Commercial Street (Spitalfields); British, breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily.
Rochelle Canteen, Rochelle School (Shoreditch); modern British, breakfast and lunch Monday-Friday, closed Saturday-Sunday.
A.Wong, 70 Wilton Road (Victoria); Chinese, lunch Tuesday-Saturday, dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.
Barrafina, 54 Frith Street (Soho); Spanish, lunch and dinner daily.
Second location: 10 Adelaide Street (Covent Garden); lunch and dinner daily.
Third location: 43 Drury Lane (Covent Garden); lunch and dinner daily.
Roti King, 40 Doric Way (King’s Cross); Malaysian, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.
Padella, 6 Southwark Street (Southwark); Italian, lunch daily, dinner Monday-Saturday.
som saa, 43A Commercial Street (Spitalfields); Thai, lunch Tuesday-Friday, dinner daily.
The Camberwell Arms, 65 Camberwell Church Street (Camberwell); pub, lunch Tuesday-Sunday, dinner Monday-Saturday.
BAO, 53 Lexington Street (Soho); Taiwanese, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.
Second location: 31 Windmill Street (Fitzrovia); lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.
Happiness Forgets, 8-9 Hoxton Square (Shoreditch); bar, open nightly.
Tower of London, open daily.
About the Chef: When Chef Isaac McHale set out on his own to open The Clove Club in 2013, he was already well-known in London’s dining scene as a member of The Young Turks collective. This forward-thinking group of chefs managed to change the fine dining game through its wildly popular pop-up dinners before opening their own acclaimed restaurants.
McHale prides himself on using the best (and often overlooked) British ingredients in his contemporary British dishes. Some of these are sourced by The Clove Club, which runs its own garden: “I think we have some of the best produce in the world in Britain. The best husbandry, amazing fish and shellfish, cheeses … but we struggle to find really, really high quality vegetables and fruit. This garden is the start of us taking some of that into our own hands.” In 2016, The Clove Club was recognized as the 26th best restaurant in the world, according to The World’s 50 Best Restaurants; that ranking also made McHale’s restaurant the list’s highest new entry and one of London’s best.