The London Journalist's Heathcote Ruthven visited the new Clerkenwell restaurant everyone is talking about: The Drunken Butler. Started by head chef and owner Yuma Hashemi, The Drunken Butler focuses on high quality French cuisine with a Persian twist.
The Drunken Butler serves high quality experimental gourmet food at a reasonable price. French cuisine with a Persian and Korean edge, and several ingredients innovatively fermented. I would say that attempting to describe the food here would be like akin to describing an artwork to someone who has never seen it; one is immediately hit by a barrier of culinary translation. But on we go!
Founder Yuma Hashemi is truly a fanatic, a mad scientist, a food geek! A veritable cosmopolitan figure, Yuma is Persian-German and has previously worked in Berlin, Sweden, Portugal, and -- crucially for The Drunken Butler -- France, where he spent 8 years cooking in a variety of restaurants, several of them with Michelin Stars. His wine knowledge is vast, having worked with the iconic winery Pétrus. Introducing customers to unfamiliar succulent wines is an important part of his vision. He himself is a character in the restaurant: passionate, affable and eager to share stories and chew the proverbial fat with customers.
Despite the incredibly luxurious and artful cuisine, The Drunken Butler is affordable. £40 for a five course taster menu is representative of the fair pricing throughout, and the gourmet finery never overpowers the Drunken Butler's sophisticatedly casual ethos.
It’s in the name: the butler in question was that Mrs Greville. - A famed society girl who hosted raucous 1920s parties. At one gathering her butler had a few too many dregs and began to wobble. His boss kindly handed him a note reading “You are too drunk sir, leave the room.” The confused butler proceeded the preceded to hand the note to the guest of honor, Austen Chamberlain.
“It represents that we are not perfect nor rigid… People will get it when they eat here” Yuma told me. The menu changes every day, and with all this talk of fermented French cuisine with a Persian and Korean twist, my guest and I had little idea of what to expect. That’s the joy of Yuma’s cooking style, the element of surprise. The suspense anticipating an unexpected flavor combination.
The bare bricked dining area is lit softly in golden tones, with a large window facing out to gothic Clerkenwell. We are led to a communal table and treated to an aperitif, a twist on the Negroni with a red cherry on top. It’s strikingly herbaceous and fresh, with none of the saccharine sickliness sometimes found in that drink.
We are brought a couple of delicately fried prawns served with truffle oil with drops of nori, that simply must be eaten in a single mouthful. With the lightest crunch it disintegrates in with a fine and understated oiliness. The subtle taste of a good truffle lingers, shadowed by some unfamiliar oceanic notes from the nori.
Then the oysters - but as we’d never had them. Two of them served on a fragrant bed of star of anise. One coated in a thick sprinkle of crushed pistachios, a nut central in Persian kitchens. The other with a crisp kimchi, which Yuma learnt how to make when working in San Franciscan Korean restaurants. To my mind the kimchi overwhelmed the freshness of the oyster here, but the oyster gave the kimchi a new sensational texture quite unlike anything. The wafts from the open kitchen made us feel washed out at sea, surrounded by driftwood. We sipped at a Portugese wine, a 2016 Pequenos Rebentos that left us with a citrusy peachy glow.
Next a dexterous salad of razor clams, fried seaweed, salmon roe, and daikon in a dressing of cucumber and herbs. It was masterful. Salmon roe exploded with rich fishy creaminess, ambrosical delight softening the astringent clams. The flavors kept coming - homely cucumber, sharp daikon, and crunchy seaweed. It was served with fizzy, floral 2017 Viña Zorzal Chardonnay. All together it was euphoric. The wild flavors keeping each other at bay.
A very fresh Scottish salmon was lightly seared, sashimi-like, and served with red onion pickled with cardamom, fresh beetroot, trout roe, and a paste of lemon skin cooked (Yuma told us) for an hour and a half. Every bite was a journey. Next a Japanese dish, onsen tamago – an egg cooked at sixty-something degrees for 45 minutes, served with husky mushrooms and a little cumin and star of anise. A viscous dream sequence.
The scallops came out perfectly roasted in a little shell, a light crunch of a bite easing into strong flavors. A little seaweed on top, decorated with petals, gives a crunch to the salty fish, which was plopped in beautiful bath of courgette sauce. A fatal oil spill of pleasurable tastes. Meaty, chewy, but not too much. For this more muscular dish we moved to red, a gutsy 2011 Chateau Blaignan Medoc, full of complex mineral flavours.
By this point, just thinking back to the long journey of flavors our mouths had been on was overwhelming. The best was yet to come - the sea bass. Crowned with seared cauliflower and yet more dribbles of nori, it lay seductively in a bed of carrot sauce with dollops of vegan mayo. The fish itself was crispy, then meaty, then blissfully gelatinous, then a tingling aftermath of dark flavors. It was filling and creaming, with every mouthful leaving you desperate for another. Once finished, our hearing became muted, the room calm - we were in totally peaceful state. What a dish.
Yuma produced a blowtorch and set himself on creating a sumptuous cheese on toast: Truffle oil soaking three different cheeses melted over a slither of charred bread. It enveloped the tongue in a divine creaminess. Our meal was finished with an orange chocolate mousse and blend of three peaty whiskies. A rich, cool finish to a symphonic meal.
We were left panting. Sated and yet not bloated; invigorated. The Drunken Butler is one of the most exciting and unique dining experiences you’ll ever have. Reserve a table while you still can. Praise be to Yuma’s vision.
The Drunken Butler
20 Rosebery Ave, London
020 7101 4020