There is something rather appealing in the prospect of being a member of a prestigious club. Many of us are members of fitness clubs but we hardly ever go because it’s hardly ever fun. We profess to be short of time as work is our focus. But there is another kind of club that does not involve any unseemly physical exertion.
Located in the heart of London and just a short distance from Trafalgar Square, Embankment Underground station and the Thames sits The Commonwealth Club. This a contemporary haven of a venue that offers space to check emails, meet friends or clients, and has flexible areas that can morph and move to host either corporate or private events. But we non-members can also enjoy a little of that well-placed conviviality, even if it is only in the restaurant and in the evenings. A visit or two might even encourage you to seek membership.
It started life as the Colonial Society. On Friday June 26, 1868, Viscount Bury declared that the intention was “to provide a meeting place for gentlemen interested in colonial and Indian affairs.” The Society’s first clubhouse was above a shirt shop in The Strand, and it stayed there till 1885. Women were admitted as Fellows from 1922.
The expanded and renovated premises on Northumberland Avenue were opened in 1936 by The Duke and Duchess of York, later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, mother of our present Queen. In May 1958 what had become the Royal Empire Society took its present name of the Royal Commonwealth Society. Within it, The Commonwealth Club was opened, after extensive building work, in 1998.
The Commonwealth Kitchen and its head chef Oliver Tobias serves up an ever-changing menu of modern European classics with the addition of Commonwealth-themed dishes. The regular menu changes every month to reflect seasonal produce, and the international menu showcases a different Commonwealth country every couple of weeks. Oliver was previously at the Royal Opera House’s Balconies Restaurant so has plenty of experience of providing food to the discerning and well-travelled set.
The Commonwealth Kitchen is a light, bright and airy space with striking movable banquettes to accommodate events. The menu might not be long but it offers something for every taste. Even frequent dinners will not easily become bored. None of the “this is Wednesday so it must be mince” mentality. When I visited, the chef was presenting dishes that gave a nod to India. Just now it’s Australia with such items as Sizzling Kangaroo Sausages, char-grilled ‘Newies’ and Mountain Pepper Berry Jus. One might finish that antipodean’s repast with Apricot and Eucalyptus Pavlova.
We chose the seasonal menu and I started with Terrine of Rabbit and Black-leg Chicken, with Sand-grown Carrot Purée. This truly was a terrine rather than a paté – a coarse-chopped meaty preparation with robust flavour and texture.
Poached Sea Bass, Pumpkin, Cranberry and Tarragon Vierge took my guest’s fancy. He is a man known to have a love of fish but a healthy distaste for anything containing a bone. He was more than content with his bass that was delicate and well-complemented by its accompaniments. The cranberry worked as a particularly delicious foil for the sweet fish.
Chard Farm Venison ‘roast and braised’, Confit Celeriac, Red Cabbage and Bitter Chocolate Jus was his main course. He was anxious that his meat be cooked to just past bloody. He was advised that over-cooking might result in a tougher final result but the venison arrived with only a florid lacquer and was still butter-tender.
North Scotland Monkfish, Mussels, Orzo Pasta and Shellfish Nage was one of the most agreeable seafood dishes I have had in ages. The monkfish was hearty and substantial and served atop a risotto of orzo, a much under-valued pasta and more delicate than the more predictable rice.
Spiced Apple Cake and Blackberry Variations along with Peppermint Tea Panna Cotta and Turkish Delight were our sweets. The berry variations were, in fact, ice cream, a tuile biscuit and a sauce to garnish a cinnamon-spiced and very light apple cake. The panna cotta was a rich and creamy triumph offering a canvas to the miniature cubes of pink and girly Turkish Delight. That dessert definitely needs another sampling.
The Commonwealth Kitchen is the public face of the Commonwealth Club. Take advantage of the newly relaxed rules to visit and enjoy an evening of contemporary British dishes, or take a little culinary trip. The map is no longer covered with Imperial red but we can still appreciate our multi-cultural heritage in a most palatable fashion.
The Commonwealth Club
25 Northumberland Avenue
Telephone: 020 7766 9200
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018