Monday, 21 November 2016

Local Eat Treats #44 Celebrating Our Anniversary at The Clarence Social

The Clarence Social is the newest place to hit Cheltenham’s food and drinks scene and I love it. The owners – Terry Croft and Steve Jones – have worked super hard on getting the place, its spaces and talented team ready for opening.

It boasts three very distinct spaces for eating, drinking and meeting, and I’ve tested out all three! We started at the top on the mezzanine level which is the eating (or meeting by day) space.

The top two floors are rather elegant in style, yet comfortable. So when we took our (rather gorgeous) seats for dinner, it felt special, yet relaxed.

They have a well-chosen wine list, and much of it is available as a carafe or by the glass as well as the bottle. We started with wine and then set about making our choices from the menu which really does offer something for everyone. Many of the starters can come as bigger plates perfect for sharing and many of the main courses are also available to order as starters (or small plates).

Burrata is hard to come by, so as soon as I spotted it on the menu I had to have it, especially as it’s served with peanut brittle and fig. I was somewhat surprised at the steep price; it cost £12 compared to most other starters costing £6 to £9, but perhaps that’s the price you pay for ‘rarity’. It wasn’t the creamiest burrata but the teaming with the peanut brittle and fig was a flavour combination I’ve never had before and I really enjoyed. Between us, we also had the Ham Hock Croquettes, British Scallops and Crispy Squid. The clear favourite was the croquettes which are served with a pea hummus and pea shoots.

For my main course I chose the deliciously tender Bulldog Pork Belly which is marinated in Japanese BBQ sauce and then served with sesame seeds, scallions and an Asian slaw. Kingsley had the Lobster Brioche which is served with citrus mayo, cucumber, chives, lettuce and fries on the side. The Mac ‘n’ Cheese took Dad’s fancy, which is saying something, as he rarely goes without meat. This is certainly a dish of the moment as I’ve seen it on many a menu of late and this one didn’t disappoint, it’s topped with brioche croutons and truffle. The Caesar Salad for Mum came good in the end but at first it arrived without Caesar dressing. The friendly staff were quick to put it right and soon Mum was tucking into her Caesar salad which was served with buttermilk chicken, crispy bacon, anchovies and a poached egg.

We couldn’t help but order some bread and butter for the table and I knew as soon as I bit into it that it was from Dom Salter of The Sandwich Box. He has recently started baking for retail and wholesale at his bakery called the Salt Bakehouse in Stonehouse.

We were pretty full after all of that, but keen to finish off with something sweet. Their CafĂ© Gourmand is a selection of mini sweet bites such as truffles, biscuits, chocolate tart and panna cotta. This all comes with a cup of coffee (from the wonderful Scandinavian Coffee Pod and is plenty to share between two – which is exactly what we did.

Suitably stuffed, we moved down a level to the ground floor and had a drink whilst waiting for a table to become available in their ah-mazing speakeasy bar in the basement. A member of staff has to let you into the bar by pressing on a certain book in the bookcase only adding to the clandestinity.  This is my favourite part of the whole place; it’s table service only, so you can be sure of a seat and it really is the perfect place to sup on a cocktail or a short. Whilst down there, we got speaking to Terry Croft - one of the owners - and even he had to wait to get into his own bar – that’s about as exclusive as you get, isn’t it?! Growing up, I always dreamed of opening a bar like this in Cheltenham, so I’m super pleased someone beat me to it and I can now enjoy it without any of the hard work.

The Clarence Social is open for brunch, lunch, coffee, cake, dinner and drinks; so, whatever your excuse, do pop in for a visit. Remember though not to utter a word to anyone about the speakeasy!

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