Taking advantage of a recent Groupon promotion, my wife and I headed to the new Clarkes Restaurant in Peterborough for a spot of lunch whilst out Christmas shopping.
Located on North Street on the edge of Westgate in the city centre, the smart front entrance to Clarkes faces onto Lincoln Road. It’s a shame there isn’t a menu on the outside of the building as passers-by would be interested to discover the food on offer.
Dining on a Groupon voucher is always a little awkward for the customer as it suggests
you love a bargain you’re a bit of a cheapskate. It’s a great opportunity for restaurants (especially new ones like Clarkes) to show off to new customers, ensuring they go home and tell their friends about how good the experience was. Unfortunately our experience wasn’t as perfect as hoped…
On arriving at Clarkes, we were greeted by polite staff, shown to our table and our coats were taken. We were presented with the set menu only to discover they literally meant it was “set”, with no choices for any of our three courses. To make matters worse, the starter and main course both had ingredients which aren’t what I would deem popular choices at any restaurant – black pudding in the starter and salmon for the main. Being the agreeable types we are, we were happy to put this down to experience but we overheard a couple of other tables also making comments about the unusual menu approach, so hopefully Clarkes take the feedback on board.
The single, large dining room is tastefully decorated and tables are given enough space so that you’re not elbow to elbow with other diners. The decor compliments the high ceilings however I felt there needed to be a few partitions to break up the space.
Staff didn’t have anywhere to “wait”, other than a dresser stocked with wine at one end of the room, or a side desk with an iPod dock. Whilst not really a problem, having a waitress standing against the wall whilst we ate did have a feeling of being in a school exam with an invigilator watching the room.
After a few minutes we were served an assortment of freshly-baked (and delicious!) complimentary bread. Shortly after our starters arrived. Now, while we were dreading the menu a little (not really the emotion you want when visiting a new restaurant for the first time) the food which came out of the kitchen was without a doubt, superb.
Clarkes is billed as a “fine dining” restaurant and our three-course meal certainly supported that claim. Ok, so the starter had black pudding, but this wasn’t the horrid dry, black circle you normally push to the side of the plate when tucking into an all-day breakfast. The black pudding at Clarkes was probably the only way I would ever want to eat black pudding in the future (not that I would consciously choose to). The small diced piece of black pudding were dare I say it, delicious with a very soft appealing texture. Maybe this is the ingredient all the celebrity TV chefs go on about?
On to the main course and whilst my wife likes salmon, it’s possibly my most-disliked fish so I was interested to see how Clarkes would be serving it up. Again, as with the starter the presentation was impeccable (sadly I didn’t get a crafty photo as the invigilator was in the room…) and I braved the salmon. Whilst it had the “salmon” taste which for me there’s no disguising, it was a very nice meal. My wife enjoyed it as salmon is more her thing.
For dessert we had what I’d describe as a deconstructed bruleed banana eton mess. Sounds random, looked very pretty on the plate and was demolished seconds after. Very tasty indeed and a good end to a meal we wouldn’t normally have chosen.
As a fine dining restaurant, Clarkes is very much concerned with great local ingredients and serving high quality food. Typically this means the portions are perhaps a little more modest than other restaurants but that’s all part of the dining experience. After all if you want gluttony, there are plenty of buffet restaurants in Peterborough churning out curry and pizza for a tenner.
Whilst neither of us felt stuffed after our meal, we were both nicely full and wouldn’t have wanted and more.
Intrigued as to what Clarkes offered on their “regular” menu, the choices are much more agreeable with three fixed-price courses at £35. At the time of writing, the website menu isn’t the same as the a la carte one we were shown but still gives a good indication of the types of food on offer. Hot-pickled mackerel with cucumber, fresh horseradish and fat hens leaf; Grey Mullet served with roasted sweet corn, clams, English radishes, pickled wild mushrooms and burnt-butter vinaigrette; Caramel poached pear terrine with gingerbread sorbet.
Clarkes is very much a restaurant for those looking for a calmer, more intimate meal or even to impress a client or dinner date. If fine dining is your thing then I strongly recommend you visit Clarkes as soon as you can.
In Peterborough we have a broad mix of restaurants, but ignoring the Indian, Oriental, Italian and chain restaurants and we’re not left with a great deal of high quality choice. I think Jim’s Beehive restaurant is fantastic and Clarkes is offering something new in a slightly more formal setting. Like the Beehive, it’s great to see Clarkes pushing the boundaries in of Peterborough palettes.
Some of the other restaurants in Peterborough try to pitch themselves as high end, but let themselves down with menus that are pretty boring which most competent home cooks could whip up in half an hour.
If every there was a restaurant in Peterborough to be awarded a Michelin star, I would say Clarkes would be it. There are a few things I think they need to iron out first but they’re not far off!
19 North Street, Peterborough
01733 892 681