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Review

Sessions Arts Club

££££
Written by

There’s a long list of things restaurant writers like to say. A classic is that we’re restaurant critics as opposed to food critics. That is, people who like to be referred to as food writers. Duh. There are specific words: joyful, unctuous, bouncy and flecked are favourites. The batter on fish fingers is always ‘shatteringly’ crispy. But the thing we hear, say, and think most often is that good restaurants aren’t just about good food. It’s a cliché so tired it’s basically a meme, however, the best restaurants prove it time and time again. Sessions Arts Club is one of them.

Like many of the restaurants you should want to spend the rest of your life in, Sessions is in Clerkenwell. You enter through a red, lantern-lit door, via a wonderfully hazy Diptyque-ish and boudoir-like reception desk, before being directed into a small brass-detailed lift. The drama of a lift in a restaurant must never be understated. Unless of course you’re ascending Heron Tower, in which case slam that red button.

At Sessions, the lift takes you somewhere special. It’s a vast, regal room that the back of our fag packet says could fit a family of giraffes, providing one of them doesn’t keel over after a glass too many of Michel Gonet Blanc de Blanc. The carefully distressed walls are art-covered and the entire place feels like it’s solely lit by flickering, throbbing candlelight. You could picture a modern day Miss Havisham holding up the bar here. Only she wouldn’t be wasting her time alone, she’d be having an illicit affair.

Aleksandra Boruch

Seduction is part of the game at Sessions Arts Club and it continues once you’re at your table. The staff here range from stalwarts of the restaurant scene to defectors from an upcoming Margaret Howell look book. They’ll greet you with warm smiles and serve you with glints in their eyes. A surreptitious top up of wine will be followed by a casual explanation of a dish. Because, of course, this is a restaurant. Therefore there is food. Food to cook and to serve and not just to explain, but also to exclaim over. But somehow the food feels secondary. Even though it isn’t.

That isn’t to put the sustenance down. It’s part of Sessions’ seduction and it’s a part of the reason this is such a good restaurant. The kitchen is led by Florence Knight (formerly of Polpetto) and its food hits many marks, specifically the ones named crab croquette, panisse, and eel and squid. It’s all lovely, plate-mopping stuff that effortlessly pairs style and comfort in a way that very few restaurants manage. And of course, it’s special. Because everything at Sessions feels special. Not in a way that has you worried about dropping aioli or calamarata sauce on yourself, but in a way that knows it isn’t just brilliant food that has you coming back to the best restaurants. It’s everything.

Food Rundown

Aleksandra Boruch
Crab Croquette

You may look at a £5 croquette and wonder whether a croquette can ever be worth five whole pounds. Don’t worry. We did the same. This one is actually more crab than croquette and it’s absolutely worth a fiver. It’d be worth more. Gooey and orange, needing just a squeeze or two of lemon, it’s a luxurious necessity at the start of your meal.

Aleksandra Boruch
Panisse, Lemon Thyme & Sea Salt

Though resembling the offspring of a particularly delicious deep-fried churro and chip affair, these taste like neither. They’re long enough to joust with but are best suited to tear and smush, to become vehicles for salt and thyme. Very good drinking food, this.

Clams, Mussels, Or Something Else

Be it clams bobbing in a slurpable bowl of crème fraîche and Riesling-laden sauce, or mussels covered in a velvety blanket of blitzed pumpkin, you should make sure to pay close attention to whatever mollusc is on the menu here.

Eel, Potato, Crème Fraîche & Roe

There’s something quietly ingenious about incorporating smoked eel between thin slices of crisp… sorry shatteringly crispy confit potato. This is probably Sessions’ most paparazzied dish and it’s undoubtedly a lovely plate of food. Alternate takes on this dish feature a very, very slow-cooked egg and shaved horseradish, which, though aesthetically less pleasing, is (whisper it) even tastier in our opinion.

Aleksandra Boruch
Squid, Tomato & Calamarata

“Now you’re looking for the secret. But you won’t find it because of course, you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to work it out. You want to be fooled.”

This is a quote from Christopher Nolan’s 2006 masterpiece The Prestige, delivered by Sir Michael Caine (who plays the role of mentor to two magicians in the 1890s with unsurprising aplomb). It also applies perfectly to this dish: a trick of the mind that combines unfathomably soft rings of squid in a soft tomato sauce with identically cooked calamarata pasta. And the prestige? Well, it’s that you don’t care which is which because it’s all so delicious.

Chocolate Tart

There is no singular perfect way to finish a woozy candlelit dinner in one of London’s most distinctive dining rooms, but a slice of impossibly delicate and puckeringly bitter chocolate tart is very close. This is one to share over one last drink, before one last last drink.

Panna Cotta

The likes of Masterchef (not to mention Greg Wallace’s eye-bulging grin) has meant that talking about a panna cotta’s wobble is now almost by the by. It either does or it doesn’t, and this one does. What’s best is the changing accompaniments with this creamy delight. One week it’s mirabelles, the next it’s oozing figs, and then it’s perfect little slabs of quince. A delightful way to finish.

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