“Summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots, or trying to sleep in the treehouse; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape..“ Clipstone
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
“Fell into a sea of grass
And disappeared among
The shady blades.
Children all ran over me
Screaming tag! You are the one!”
Summertime Rolls, Jane’s Addiction
“Wake up, it’s a beautiful morning,
Feel the sun shining for your eyes.
Wake up, it’s so beautiful,
For what could be the very last time..”
Wake Up Boo, The Boo Radleys
Maybe it’s just me, but some places just seem to exude a particular atmosphere, one that especially suits one season or another.
So, at the time when Autumn turns to Winter, is there a better place than beside the crackling fire and cosy wood-paneling of London’s oldest restaurant, Rules, where you’ll be rewarded with its hearty fare of meat pies and game?
And nothing sings like Spring than Rochelle Canteen, whose vast windows overlook a St James’s Park that bursts with crocuses and daffodils, just when the days draw out longer and their luminous tendrils intrude ever deeper into the night?
And now it’s Summer, I think I’ve found the ideal place – Clipstone – where olive and bay trees nestle amongst sunny pavement tables; an awning flaps gently in the breeze. Double-aspect windows soak up the summer light, so that even a meal inside feels like dining out in glorious sunshine.
Inside, white tiles decorate the walls, a blank canvas for an array of multicolour summer paraphernalia – sky-blue napkins that evoke wistful seaside memories; a sprinkling of summer flowers that whisper of wildflower meadows; and windowsills that heave under a parade of empty wine bottles that hint of long languorous tipsy evenings by the Mediterranean.
Meanwhile, a medley of kilner jars and huge spherical flasks dot the room, each one brimming with all sorts of brightly-coloured concoctions, as though from a mad scientist’s laboratory. Inside things are gently infusing, fermenting, pickling – apple vinegar, beetroot gin, fermenting chillies – an endeavour to capture the abundance of the season and preserve them for the cooler, more barren months ahead.
Yes, if Spring is birth and Winter is death, then Summer is life. And who wouldn’t want to preserve that? It’s teeming with energy. Vitality. Creativity. It’s all things wild and carefree and intoxicating.
So, as we’re now in the giddy throes of summer, where more befitting than Clipstone, a place that just lives and breathes this season. And that’s not just in the atmosphere, but the food as well.
Take for instance a raw clutch of radishes, all simplicity itself; a statement to showcase the season’s bounty. It’s paired with a velvety anchovy dip – not unlike the bagna cauda that hails from the humid verdant foothills of Piedmont.
And this dish is similarly sultry – great voluptuous bulbs of crimson, all curvy and plump, framed by lush fronds of fig-leaf green. They huddle tight on the plate, awaiting to be plucked and dipped into the warm sumptuous bath of the smooth salty cream.
Try as I might, the sauce inexorably slips round the curved edge of the radish before dribbling all over my chin with abandon. I mop myself up sheepishly with a napkin.
Another snack of roasted cauliflower and spenwood arancini also comes in the form of little heavenly globes. This time, the contrast is between the outer crust – so crisp that the sound resonates delicately around the ears – and the meltingly-gooey cheesy interior. This time I’ve a napkin positioned strategically underneath.
The flavour is undoubtedly intense, simultaneously both sweet and savoury, with the unpasteurised sheep’s cheese bringing a hint of caramel to the party. It’s resoundingly comfort food, yet still manages to surprise and thrill.
Summer flavours are again brought to the fore in a crudo of sea-trout. All the disparate elements come together so seamlessly, almost magically – fat rich slivers of fish, sweet summery peas, the peppery crunch of kohlrabi, grassy notes from an assortment of micro-leaves, and crisp juicy slices of granny-smith apple that lend both a sweetness and acidity. All in all, an exemplary seasonal dish.
And finally, what captures a quintessential English summer more than strawberries and cream? Here, garriguette strawberries are served up with mint and sorrel ice-cream: a smattering of meringue is sprinkled on top.
It’s a dish that conjures all kinds of archetypal English summer scenes so vividly, like little vignettes captured on Polaroid: tennis at Wimbledon, hanging baskets, wedding confetti, summer garden parties, a game of cricket on the village green. It’s nostalgia in a bowl.
Yes, it’s all too easy to be fancifully romantic when it comes to summer. Who lives like this, really? And such a charge can also be levelled at Clipstone – it’s almost all too perfect; a glorious vision of a summer idyll.
But then again, isn’t a bit of escapism good, at least once in a while? After all, we all need a break at times. A holiday. Or just a meal out, whether it be a fancy restaurant or the corner caff. To get away from the daily grind, the humdrum, or the tough moments that life can occasionally hurl our way.
Besides, at some point, the shadows will start to lengthen again, a chill wind will start to blow from the north, Summer will come to an end.. and we all know what lies beyond. So let’s make the most of it, at least whilst we still can.
Is there a special place you like to visit in summer, somewhere like Clipstone that perfectly captures the season for you?.. And if you’ve already had enough of the summer heat, and need a blast of cooler air, then feel free to check out my seasonal posts on Winter and Spring.