“We all have to have something different,” content director Anelde declares as we sit down. Technically, this is supposed to be an editorial meeting, but thanks to fully-booked board rooms, we’ve been forced to relocate to Clarke’s Bar and Dining Room down the road from our office.
“I want the cheeseburger!”
“No, wait. There’s a pulled pork sub.”
“Ooh, macaroni cheese with gruyère, feta and fontina!”
At this stage, somebody notices the all-day breakfasts, one of which is a Nutella-and-banana-stuffed croissant with crispy bacon, seasonal fruit crème fraîche, caramel turtles and Mrs Butterworth’s syrup. It’s clear this is not going to be a very productive meeting.
Now famous for its signature cheeseburgers and scrumptious comfort food, the restaurant first opened up in mid-December last year. “Clarke's is based on diners and greasy spoons in the US,” explains owner Lyndall Maunder. “It’s fun food, but it doesn’t have to be damaging. We avoid the damaging bit by using the best suppliers we can find, and doing the rest ourselves.”
The cheeseburgers, for instance, are made using top quality free-range beef from Bill Riley, and Trevor Daly’s brioche rolls. Hasan from The Bread Company also supplies breads, while organic sprouts are from Cherene Organics, fruit and veg are from Wild Organics, and Theonista supplies Kombucha, a tea-based drink. Ice cream – in heavenly flavours from peanut butter to farm cream – hails from artisan ice cream makers, The Creamery.
This focus on top quality produce shows in the meals. Bill Riley’s free-range brisket is amazing in The Reuben (a simply enormous sandwich with a comically large gherkin). The tender pulled pork sub and the creamy mac and cheese also get the thumbs up from our team. All-day breakfasts are fabulous, with perfectly soft and fluffy scrambled eggs in dishes like the egg sandwich on a croissant or rye, with bacon and wilted Swiss chard.
“When I was in fine dining, we all thought being a breakfast chef was just the lamest thing. But over time I've realised its one of the best meals of the day,” says Lyndall. She did a two-year stint with David Higgs when he was running an apprenticeship programme at Meerendal, and also worked under George Jardine at Jardine, before starting Woodstock restaurant Superette with Justin and Cameron of Neighbourgoods.
At night, the menu slims down dramatically, and only two dishes are served: the cheeseburger (you can have it with or without bacon, and with or without fries), and the veggie sloppy Joe: a slow-cooked bean ragout covered in cheese. “If there was a full menu at night from Monday to Saturday I would lose my mind and wouldn't be able to enjoy doing this as much,” explains Lyndall. “I think if that happens it will reveal itself in the food, the staff and the space. The most important thing is that we have fun.”
For now, it certainly seems that the team is doing just that. The restaurant is relaxed but buzzy, with plenty of hipsters for street cred, and the décor is simple but beautiful. Lyndall teamed up with designer Liam Mooney to create the space, with quirky details like oversized light bulbs and a profusion of pot plants to add character.
All in all, it’s not the most successful editorial meeting we’ve ever had. After we’ve finally settled the disputes over who is having what, the food arrives and turns out to be yummy in a thoroughly absorbing way. Our agenda is frequently interrupted by cries of “yum”, along with hostile attacks on one another’s plates. A word of warning, though: “rich”, “creamy” and “buttery” are the most commonly recurring adjectives used by our team. This is most decidedly not the place to go if you’re on a diet.
Craving a juicy burger and not anywhere near Clarke’s? Have a look at our list of best burgers in the country.
By Katharine Jacobs