Sessions Arts Club, 24 Clerkenwell Grn, London EC1R 0NA
Sessions Arts Club: Gastronomic Duty Sex
Although the Friday clamour of a Farringdon in full swarm is nothing new, exiting its station still manages to flick panic into my eyes. Thankfully there’s that one-man hotdog cart operation billowing greasy plumes — a Palo Santo of emulsified meat that helps me remember to breathe. Namaste.
The short distance to Sessions Arts Club on a Friday night is a Taken-esque montage of guffawing Gillet squads, young professionals lamenting six-figure entry-level salaries and the air of fomenting fisty-double cuffs once the bag runs out. Turning the corner to Clerkenwell Green and giving the baying hordes the slip, it suddenly becomes eerily quiet, reaching a door the shade of red that Stephen King might interpret as foreshadowing, arched with the sort of spindly branches that throw witches' hands on your bedroom wall at night.
Following a brief scan from a silent human eye via the intercom, it opens. Inside is dim, with a figure sitting behind a small desk; a candle flailing in the sudden rush of air of the door closing, then total silence — as if making it through an airlock just in time. The whole scene is one nasally “greetings traveller” away from a Garth Marenghi introduction. Directed to a wood-panelled lift that’s somewhere between prohibition-era and the Crystal Maze, I’m expecting Richard O’Brien to appear when the doors reopen, thrusting into an explanation all about how the menu works with the implied threats of small plates.
Sessions Arts Club is excruciatingly romantic. With the scraped and faded walls revealing the various renovations throughout the decades, it’s very 'Dracula via Berlin', treading the line between a purist respect for architecture and ‘the budget ran out here, I’m afraid’. The place glows with light both indirect and candle; their tethered shadows struggling against fresh white tablecloths, gently catching the vast pastel hues around them. Sessions induces a dreamlike state that I can only liken to overdoing the codeine having just woken up from a tipsy kip.
Ordering the panisse brings two fat, golden sabres that appear crisp but are more like warm Flumps, suggesting some mistiming in the kitchen. Legend has it, that there used to be four. I inhale mine regardless, dredging it through a pleasingly piquant sauce and divvying up the purple basil rations. However, I put that down to the pumpkin spiced sour I knocked back just as gracefully, as Uggs spawned on my hooves.
The confit-pressed potato phenomenon still persists and I’m fine with it. Sessions hide slivers of smoked eel between their layers; smoky little Post-It notes in an unctuous deck of carbs. Pooled with crème fraîche plopped with salmon roe under the dapple of nasturtium flower, this is the sort of dish I want to eat from a bucket in a Lay-Z-Boy with the sole aim of becoming fatter and sassier.
A plate of clams cup coco de Bretagne — clouds with a membrane resembling Skittlez relieved of their outer E numbers. Translucent petals of borrettane are scattered around, pulling that "beauty in simplicity" shtick, but I soon realise that it’s all a honey trap; jolting for the second time as I clamp down on grit.
Thankfully, a superbly cooked pork loin follows astride a swath of drab anchovy sauce as brown as Mrs. Doubtfire’s tights, but it’s truly excellent and just the thing I was saving bread for. The yellow beans and frisée plonked on top are just, sort of…there in what feels like an attempt to bulk out the plate.
But by all accounts, the cheesecake is very good; that heady mix of a firm caramelised heel becoming ever more silken toward the nose, barely able to hold itself together. Beside is a creased cetratus of currant curd that’s equally brilliant — still retaining the incisive burst of the berry.
Exhibit B of an immensely talented pastry section is the hazelnut cake. Fixed into place with a fitting of cream draped over viscous and just-bitter chocolate sauce, it resembles the scroll on a coat of arms. Still warm and riddled with finely chopped hazelnuts, it reminds me of the Fabulous Bakin Boys Cupcakes that I used to practically snort as a teen.
An online seduction assured via the grapevine, I've instead been subjected to the motions of gastronomic duty sex more than any true romance. As the petite mort intensifies, the dreamy appeal of this place dissolves at the same rate; the dimness becoming sinister rather than soft — acutely aware that we’re hemmed in by chickenwire lending to a sense of being a number over anything else. All the sentiments of Tina Turner’s ‘Private Dancer’ begin to seep into my ears, drowning out the tech house that’s been subtly caving my brain in the whole time.
For the most part, there's some great cooking here and perhaps I caught them on a bad day. Grace Dent said “That’s the brilliant thing about the very best restaurants: they make you lunch and sell you a fantasy” and while the Sessions' aesthetic certainly succeeds in this way, I can't help but feel that the rest of their pitch is a bit knackered.