Founded in 1863 by none other than Mr Charles Dickens to provide wealthy aficionados of the arts, literature and sciences with a meeting place where they could enjoy the finer things in life, The Arts Club is now one of London’s most prestigious private members clubs. Patroned by HRH Prince Philip, its members include musician Ronnie Wood, artist Grayson Perry, photographer Tom Hunter, actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Kim Cattrall, and political writer Matthew Parris.
Last week, I was lucky enough to walk in the footsteps of these high profile lads and ladies, through the ruby velvet curtains of its grand entrance hall. I arrived for lunch, but didn’t leave until dinner – I can see how many an afternoon could be wiled away here.
After a short pitstop at the bar (where I tried my very best to perch elegantly à la Julia Roberts in Pretty Women), I was joined by my dining party and we were led to a perfectly dressed table at the centre of the glamorous brasserie, where we took our places on comfortable upholstered chairs. A quick glance around the room revealed an eclectic and multinational clientèle, from suited and booted businessmen, to ladies of leisure out for a girly lunch.
The restaurant’s menu is created by one of the chefs from La Petite Maison, the legendary eatery in Nice’s Old Town, on the French Riviera, which opened a restaurant in London in 2007. The main menu – which consists of hors d’oeuvres, salads, oysters and raw fish dishes, Italian classics and dishes from both land and sea – comes with a special truffle menu of six dishes, showcasing the exquisite Périgord truffle.
The hors d’oeuvres are designed for sharing. We each selected a dish, which made for an exciting and colourful spread. The tuna tartare is presented with modern flare; a cube of melt-in-the-mouth fish sits on buttery avocado in a pool of shimmering soy sauce. The translucent discs of beef carpaccio are topped with vibrant pesto, toasted pine nuts, crispy girolle mushrooms and slithers of flakey Parmesan. The courgette fritters are lightly coated in crisp batter and quickly friend, retaining a satisfying bite. The sweet Padròn peppers have wonderfully soft flesh beneath a chargrilled skin. The delicate slices of yellowtail draped across ripe avocado and finished with a sweet mandarin-citrus sauce are a bright and flavoursome dish. Braised leeks stand proudly in a light jus, accompanied by elegant quenelles of mellow goat’s curd and toasted hazelnut halves. And a bowl of nutty lentils, flecked with finely chopped carrot, was the final piece to our hors d’oeuvres puzzle.
Following a glorious start to our meal, the mains arrived. I chose the grilled sea bass with marinated aubergine and tomatoes. A glistening, crisp skin tops delicate white flesh, while the caponata-style aubergine is rich with fruity, herby flavour. Sweet roasted on-the-vine cherry tomatoes and a bundle of peppery rocket balance the dish.
My friend chose from the truffle menu. The distinct aroma of truffle permeated the air as soon as the dish hit the table, and I had to sneak a taste. The burrata-stuffed potato gnocchi are creamy and light, each one crowned by a generous slice of the star ingredient, and finished with a few thyme leaves.
The dessert menu listed comforting winter classics such as sticky toffee pudding, banoffee pie and cheesecake. But these traditional puddings are transformed into elegant dishes. The cheesecake is light and silky smooth, sitting on a thin, buttery base and served with a blueberry compote with a balance of sugar and zing. The ‘Chocolate Bar’ has a mirror shine chocolate glaze, encasing layers of mousse and praline, and is decorated with shards of dark chocolate, gold leaf and crunchy honeycomb nuggets. The Arts Club’s take on a classic Italian affogato is unique, made with a refreshing white coffee sorbet and topped with a sweet Chantilly cream dusted with cocoa.
Gold-dusted chocolate coins, stamped with The Arts Club’s logo, presented with the bill (don’t make the same mistake as me and try desperately to peel off its shiny shell – its edible colour) are a nice touch to finish.
The Arts Club
40 Dover Street
London W1S 4NP
T: 020 7499 8581
Access to restaurant for members only (and guests, so find yourself an affluent and arty friend!)