It’s in this unlikely part of London that Clarke is embarking upon six-month residency, Disco Bistro, his chance to “show that I can do something with more longevity, less itinerant” than the pop-ups he’s famous for.
Over the past couple of years, Clarke has risen to fame in the London food scene through his Thomas Keller spoof, ‘The English Launderette’ pop-up, as well as the ‘Rock Lobsta’ seafood bar, both in trendy Shoreditch. And most recently, ‘God Save the Clam’ – a punk, Jubilee-themed clam bake in equally trendy London Fields.
If we could have afforded to spend half a million quid on a custom-built kitchen, then we would have
But with a real residence – bricks and mortar – in a corporate part of town, it appears that Clarke might be ready for a change. That is, until you go upstairs in The Rising Sun pub and step into Disco Bistro, furnished with mismatched chairs, scrawled-on blackboards, and taxidermy squirrel lights scuttling up the wall.
“There’s loads and loads of cool stuff in the room” laughs one of the four Disco Bistro chefs, Glyn Gordon. “It’s a product of the fact that we had absolutely no money to start with. Everything has been borrowed”, adds the ex Roganic and L’Enclume chef.
“If we could have afforded to spend half a million quid on a custom-built kitchen, then we would have done– and the diners wouldn’t be sat on bus seats” Gordon continues. “But circumstance has dictated this.”
Unlike Gordon, it seems that even if Clarke could have ‘afforded a half a million quid custom-built kitchen’, it might be hard for him to trade his punk-cooking ways. “This isn’t a restaurant – it’s a creative space” Clarke grins. “The gramophone lamp is made by this amazing artist called Alex Randall. She did the squirrels too – they’re all for sale” he adds, referring to the taxidermy light holders nailed to the wall.
This is how the food movement is evolving. People don’t need much money to start something up.
“This space is ever-evolving. It’s always on the move. The wine changes all the time, the food changes all the time – next time you come in, the chair you sat on last time might have been sold.” Clarke explains, demonstrating that his initial aim of being “less itinerant” certainly hasn’t changed too many old habits.
“This is the future” Clarke says. “This is how the food movement is evolving. People don’t need much money to start something up. Over the past few years, lots of successful places have started in food vans. It shows a real sense of belief and integrity.”
“Chefs don’t have to spend ten years getting abused in Michelin-starred kitchens.” Gordon adds. “They can find a niche, try it out in a pop-up or a market stall. And then things can suddenly kick off for them.”
The democratisation of restaurants is something both chefs are keen on. There is a real power of grassroots movements in London's food scene, and a strong sense of community with fellow chefs cooking one-off evenings in each others restaurants, training up-and-coming cooks through stages and sharing information more openly than ever. Just as the interview is coming to an end, both Clarke and Gordon demonstrate this by shooting off on a tangent about “Greg the pumpkin guy” – a tip-off from a Gordon’s housemate, also a chef. “He’s this mad guy in Oxfordshire who’s just grows these amazing pumpkins. What a find."
Cooking is fun right now. For the first time ever it’s actually really good fun
For all the incongruity of having this bohemian refuge in a corporate part of town, Disco Bistro is flying – and is already booked up until next year. Like Disco Bistro, there are heaps of restaurants in London which are carefully-sourcing and superbly-cooking dishes. But what sets Clarke’s latest venture apart is his infectious enthusiasm to get artists, musicians, young chefs and diners all equally involved and excited. “Cooking is fun right now.” he says. “For the first time ever it’s actually really good fun.”The Rising Sun
61 Carter Lane