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Words: Will Squires
Guy Beringer invented the idea of brunch in 1895 in his essay, ‘Brunch: A Plea’. Established as a meal designed to help people deal with hangovers, it’s since swept across the world, before returning to nest in London over the last decade or so.
With this history in mind, I approach the Devonshire Club’s “Sushi in the City” brunch with some trepidation. Raw fish? On a hangover? You must be kidding.
Nestled in the heart of the West End, the Devonshire Club is a private member’s grotto that opens to the public on weekends for brunch. An amalgamation of an old East India Company warehouse and Georgian Townhouse, it’s distinctly difficult to find. Apparently, this is cool – but in my ‘scientific’ hungover state (one cannot brunch without one according to Beringer), it’s slightly infuriating, and makes my temples throb. Look for the glorious, dark glass wall in Devonshire Square, and the only building that is not clearly labelled.
Entering inside, my partner and I have our coats whisked away, before we are ourselves whisked into the back room, past a mixture of expensive yet modern furniture, and attractive yet confusing tribal and animal sculptures. The Devonshire feels like your ideal living room, if you were a third-Generation East-India man whose father happened to marry a Scandinavian furniture designer. Effortlessly cool, the mixture of exotic wood and plush upholstery is comforting in my tender state. Deposited delicately in our chairs by Milan, our waiter, we’re asked if we’d prefer the bottomless champagne, or the bottomless prosecco.
I have several issues with ‘bottomless’ alcohol. The Devonshire Club, to its credit, manages to temper these. Whilst typically any ‘bottomless’ experience involves haranguing your overstretched waiter for another drink, at the Devonshire the service is smooth and flawless. I can say, for the first time, despite my best attempts, I did not see the bottom of my glass.
In fact, the service throughout the meal is fantastic – a balance of straight-backed, pouring with one-hand formality (which one expects from any venue that uses the word ‘private’ as a selling point), but with a delicacy that goes well with a hangover. Our coterie of waiters is friendly, and respond to my partner and I’s slightly boozy mood by joking and playing along with us throughout the meal.
To combat the headache, we start with coffee. Rich, fruity, fragrant, Italian? These are all words I try to articulate to my partner, but fail – suffice to say it is excellent. The real challenge however, is delivered in an oversized clam, like an offering to a lost God of the sea. Sashimi: beautiful, yet treacherous. An element of theatre unfolds, as our waiter pours a stream of Jasmine tea from an oriental pot onto a cube of dry-ice, leading to a billowing field of smoke that plays across the meal. I struggle with my chop-sticks, and eventually managing to harangue the raw fish (with a smear of excellent wasabi) into my mouth. The chef knows his trade – cut in a delicate arc, the fish dissolves on my palate, resoundingly fresh, perfectly unctuous. The butterfish in particular is something that will live in the memory.
Despite the triumph of the sashimi, I yearn for something heavier to combat my rolling stomach. A selection of well-presented maki and nigiri arrive to battle the beast within. The rice is pleasantly fluffy, the dragon rolls in particular a riotous success. Intelligently, the Devonshire give you the traditional soy sauce, with an additional saucer of truffle-ponzu dip, and I gleefully dunk in, my tortured head throbbing happily at the sharp injection of exotic sugars and salts.
Tempura follows. I am almost disappointed that the batter is gossamer thin, filaments of flour arcing to the edge, frayed at the ends. But the texture is sublime. I love Japanese food, yet batter is challenging to perfect. The Devonshire succeeds where others fail, a sharp dip almost unnecessary due to the delicate tang of the batter.
The only criticism I can find of the Devonshire is their pacing of the main course. After the lazy starting salvo is cleared away, the main course arrives at a canter. Ramen with soft, spoon-carvable chashu pork and a deep red broth is phenomenal – a welcome tonic to my fast diminishing brain-pain, but by the time we reach the black cod in miso, it is slightly overcooked.
It’s a testament to the Devonshire that I don’t doubt if we had started with the cod, it would have been flawless, but this overcrowding of the table is the only blot on an otherwise exceptional meal. A duck salad with pomegranate is sharp and crunchy, but the paleness of the pomegranate seeds suggests this dish would hit harder when the fruit was in season.
We finish with mochi – the yuzu a particular triumph – and a beautiful pot of sencha tea. As I finally begin to reach the bottom of my glass of champagne (despite Milan’s attempts to thwart me), I settle back into the plush, Scandinavian chair. Contentment in spite of a hangover: exactly what I was after.
Raw fish at brunch – who would’ve known it could be so good?
The Devonshire Club’s ‘Sushi in the City’ menu is available as a limited offer of £50 per guest, with the option of adding free- flowing prosecco at £15 per guest, or Champagne for £30 per guest. Serving will be in two hour slots for minimum of two guests, from 11:30am to 4:30pm every Saturday. Bookings can be made through this number 020 3750 4545 or on this website