When fish and chips are done right, you don’t get the more aggressive crunch of perfect fried chicken. It’s a frothy, almost airy kind of chomp, ideally a little tangy with beer. The Clocktower, a swanky, stylish new restaurant on the second floor of the Met Life Building, gets it just right: A big piece of Icelandic cod is hot, cooked through, but extremely juicy. This is served on a bed of mushy peas. The peas aren’t cafeteria-style, holding water, but fresh and vibrant, perfectly seasoned, buzzing through with a little malt vinegar.
The chef is an Englishman, obviously. His name is Jason Atherton, and he splits his time between his many restaurants all over the world, including the one he’s best known for: Pollen Street Social in London. Apart from the fish and chips, and a little Lancashire hotpot layered with threads of rabbit meat and tender potatoes, Atherton’s menu isn’t too obviously English, and the touches are well-integrated into a clubby, crowd-pleasing menu of cold dressed seafood and steaks.
But there are some surprises: In addition to a warm Bearnaise sauce in a silver gravy boat that accompanies the steaks, there might also be a bottle of HP Sauce—a downmarket British brown sauce made by Heinz, for which there are no substitutions. It’s essentially a steak sauce, tangy and sweet, ideal with breakfast sausages. Whether you want to dab any of it on your $52 strip steak is a personal question (I do, but only on the occasional bite).
The hotel, the New York Edition, is an Ian Schrager joint that opened in May. Everything is luxuriously designed, creamy and beige and soft. To get to the restaurant on the second floor is a glowing white spiral staircase that feels like climbing through the inner ear of a gigantic creature from a lost episode of Dr. Who. The restaurant upstairs has the look of an old New York club, with every bit of wall space covered with gold-framed celebrity portraits—Al Green, Bob Dylan, all the beautiful people in their youth, preening in front of hotel room mirrors or smoking on the backs of motorcycles. The restaurant itself, a series of interconnected parlor rooms (including one purple billiard room and a sparkly gold bar) is quite good looking—and wooden blinds keep the place shaded and dim, even in the middle of the day.
At lunchtime, you’ll see a range of hotel guests and diners straight out of their offices on Madison Square Park, a mix of tourists and New Yorkers—the summer goths in from L.A., closing a deal on their cell phones with tattooed hands and crystal-stacked fingers; business men and women in tailored suits; and stylish retirees clinking glasses of champagne, splitting their burger with a knife. This being a new Stephen Starr restaurant, there will be celebrities, too, or at least people you think might be celebrities but can’t quite place. The restaurant is more modern, more effortlessly cool than Starr’s best known contributions to the New York restaurant scene, Buddakan and Morimoto. There's a timelessness to the space and the scene. It seems to have always been here (it hasn't, of course, it opened only in May).
There are some misses when it comes to the menu. Steak tartare is delicious. Roasted bone marrow is also delicious, but when it’s scooped out of the bone and plopped onto an otherwise fantastic steak tartare, as it is at Clocktower, it reminds you that its composition is almost entirely fat and that once this kind of fat cools, it becomes firm and grainy and unappealing. In cold chopped steak, the hardening happens quickly. As you are eating it, the texture of the marrow changes. (Even if you never ponder these things while you eat, it might make you wonder, is this what is happening inside my body?) The macaroni and cheese, a pile of slightly overcooked rigatoni layered with bechamel and morels, also has an unnecessary addition of heavy, meaty fat: cubes of ox cheeks.
Service can be wobbly, and it’s not clear why the servers insist on crowding the tables with more plates than it can hold, instead of sending you things in stages. There’s also an unnecessary amount of table service, which should feel fun but is mostly quite awkward and dated. Why finish the gorgeous peeled tomato salad with burrata with basil granita at the table? Why bring the salmon out on a wooden platter just to transfer it to the plate at the table?
Desserts rarely get the attention they deserve, but Clocktower has a few impressive ones by Sebastien Rouxel, so don’t skip. For those who veer away from sweet stuff after their meal, there’s a little ode to the grapefruit, with segments poached in Campari until they taste rich, caramelized, and pleasingly bitter, with a tiny, bright quenelle of grapefruit sorbet. If you want something more traditional, there’s a glorious tarte tatin for two (or four, really) made with tangy pink lady apples that have been truly, properly caramelized so the outside is slick and the edges are chewy. (The extra caramel sauce on the side is totally unnecessary—if you can catch your server before he pours, ask him to leave it on the side for you to manage on your own.)
Right now, there’s a particularly fantastic strawberry dessert with a tender olive oil shortbread and a thick vanilla-infused custard and a sharp verjus ice cream melting over everything. It’s the most delightful of the desserts for its pure flavors and subtly interesting textures—a blackberry, broken up into tiny frozen beads. It’s also a tasty little reminder from the Clocktower that despite some of its heavier, almost wintery dishes, the restaurant does have an understanding of summertime in New York.
The Clocktower is at 5 Madison Avenue, Second Floor (Flatiron District); +1 (212) 413-4300 or theclocktowernyc.com
Rating: Two Stars (Very Good)
What to Get: Tomato salad with burrata ($15); Dressed crab with crisp uni ($21); Roasted Dover sole with capers and lemon ($54); Dry-aged strip steak ($52); Fish and chips with mushy peas ($21); Burger ($24)
Who’s Next to You: At the glittering golden bar, packs of bros in various shades of pink and blue shirts. In the dining rooms, groups of women after work in sleeveless white blazers and glittering cocktail rings, date nights, birthday celebrations, and hotel guests on their phones.