Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

An English chef in New York

With the opening of The Clocktower, acclaimed British chef Jason Atherton gives New York a taste of London time

Published: Oct 15, 2015 06:36:37 AM IST
Updated: Oct 9, 2015 11:47:33 AM IST
An English chef in New York
Image: David Yellen
On the table: While Jason Atherton will be serving up his trademark punny cocktails at The Clocktower, diners should expect flashes of British fare. ā€œIā€™m not going to come here and put toad in the hole on a menu,ā€ he says

The most tasteful aspect of the New York Edition—Ian Schrager’s latest boutique hotel collaboration with Marriott—is clearly its second-floor restaurant, The Clocktower, run by Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton.

The 43-year-old Atherton, like the best Wagyu cattle, was bred for this moment. He spent his formative years in kitchens with Marco Pierre White and Ferran Adrià, then did an extended tour of duty under Britain’s culinary drill sergeant, Gordon Ramsay. Like Ramsay, Atherton has since built a restaurant empire extending to all corners of the former British Empire—first with Pollen Street Social in London’s Mayfair, then Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and Sydney. (He now has 15 restaurants and three Michelin stars, for Pollen Street Social, Social Eating House and City Social.) He did not, however, inherit Ramsay’s much-televised intensity. Atherton, slim and stubbled, instead exudes a studied cool, down to his slim green-and-yellow plaid trousers and Tom Ford wingtips.

After opening the acclaimed Berners Tavern at Schra- ger’s London Edition hotel in 2014, Schrager offered Ather- ton a chance to bring his talents to the new Edition in the landmark Metropolitan Life Tower. “If you don’t get excit- ed about New York, you don’t have blood running through your veins,” he says.

In May, The Clocktower opened, with Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr coming in as Atherton’s 50-50 partner to run financial and business operations. His plan for the restaurant is less a full-blown British invasion than a modest nod to the Queen’s cuisine. “We’ll cook with the sensibilities of back home, with techniques like roasting, braising, slow cooking,” says Atherton a few days before the restaurant’s opening, seated in one of The Clocktower’s three mahogany-lined dining rooms. “I’m not going to come here and put toad in the hole on a menu.” Nor will he ship in any ingredient from England, he says—except the Dover sole.

As in other Atherton establishments, The Clocktower eschews any nose-in-the-air stuffiness. “We create restaurants for the public. Whatever you want to do, you’re welcome,” he says. It’s a line, but a refreshing one in a city of strict come-and-be-served $300 tasting menus and $16 lobster rolls that are more mayonnaise than crustacean.

An English chef in New York
Image: David Yellen
Meat and greet: The côte de boeuf is a specialty at the clubby Clocktower

In the David Rockwell-designed Clocktower, dim lighting on 90 seats gives off an intimate vibe. Gold- framed pictures of celebrities adorn the walls, offering a chance to redefine the game Hollywood Squares—and guess the portraits’ subjects with your dining partners. Ornately carved mouldings and a marble fireplace make the space feel elegant. A purple-felt pool table in the room adjacent to the bar adds to the loose feel in the restaurant.

Belly up and order any number of pleasant cocktails, all with a jigger of Atherton’s penchant for wordplay—including Dill or No Dill (Beefeater gin, fresh dill, smashed cucumbers) and Give Peas a Chance (gin again, but with Chartreuse, mint and salted pea cordial).

Among the more memorable starters, a none-too- timid hand-chopped beef tartare with a thin slice of toast and bone marrow, scooped from its skeletal casing tableside. Atherton studied America’s carnivore cathedrals, like Peter Luger in Brooklyn, before his break-out role opening Maze for Ramsay in London; steak impresses at The Clocktower, too, with a funky juiciness that comes from ageing 40 days on the bone. Thick, crisp French fries cooked in beef fat are a nice complement. Another winning dish: An appropriately gelatinous pork belly, brined, slow-cooked for 36 hours and caramelised in apple cider vinegar. It arrives with a twee touch (fennel pollen) on a bed of mashed potatoes possessing the right balance of cream and well-roasted heritage carrots the size of half-smoked cigars. Dinner concludes with a tin of sweets—crunchy peanut brittle, buttery shortbread—with a tiaraed Queen Eliz- abeth on its lid.

Soon after its opening, a rumour about The Clocktower rang out: Not only can you shoot pool on that purple table, but on the condition of reasonably good behaviour you can dance on it, too. All true, Atherton affirms. “You just can’t take your clothes off.”

(This story appears in the Sept-Oct 2015 issue of ForbesLife India. To visit our Archives, click here.)