“It sprawls over the top floor of a Clerkenwell townhouse, and the dining room — a palette of lushly faded greens, cracked beiges, and black banquettes — looks appropriate for the kind of pastel cooking that is having a small surge from a strong base in London.”
When chef Florence Knight’s new restaurant, Sessions Arts Club, was announced as opening in June, Eater London placed it alongside “Anna Tobias’ Cafe Deco, at the upcoming Toklas from the founders of Frieze. and the [now-opened] Cafe Cecilia from ex-River Cafe chef Max Rocha; at Neil Borthwick’s French House.” James Hansen wrote that food would arrive on the “Mediterranean side of sunny and the British side of austere” — “given a diffuse, thrown-together feel but bathed in soft light following in the likes of Rochelle Canteen, St. John, Quo Vadis.”
In the age of hype and preview saturation, few restaurants deliver on their promise. Similarly, and for obvious reasons, few new restaurants feel as old, well-established, or full of confidence as Sessions Arts Club does.
From the unassuming entrance into what looks more like a solicitors’s office in the middle of Clerkenwell Green to the charming front desk, the decadent old lift up to fourth floor, a small curtain giving way to a dining room that is equal parts elegantly distressed Tuscan villa / decrepit British stately home / and fancy art collector London townhouse, so much about this restaurant dining room is both surprisingly special and arresting.
It feels as if it has been in situ for a long-time, perhaps because of the simple, deceptive simplicity and brilliance in chef Florence Knight’s Brit-Med cooking, which exists in her own image but also in that of so many great London restaurants, the River Cafe among them. Perhaps its the outsized presence of gregarious front-of-house and St. John / Quo Vadis alumnus Jon Spiteri who regales guests in his idiosyncratic suiting from behind Lennon-like spectacles. Perhaps, the owners just chose an astonishingly handsome room in which to land their idea of a modern London restaurant.
Whatever it may be, Sessions Arts Club, probably the capital’s hottest restaurant in September 2021, has many hallmarks of a London classic.
Take a look inside.
Chef Florence Knight, who is best known for her time spent as head chef and co-owner of Polpetto has made a spectacular return to the London restaurant industry. Here she is pictured alongside general manager Jon Spiteri, who brings pedigree, flamboyance, and style to the dining room.
Eater contributor George Reynolds on the food:
The team at Sessions Arts Club have had 18 months to prepare for their long-postponed opening day, and it shows. It’s there in the beautifully dilapidated room, which instantly joins London’s most transportive. It’s there in the front of house, impeccably drilled and dressed but warm and appealingly cheeky with it. Most of all, it’s there in Florence Knight’s food, which has the supreme self-confidence to do a lot while saying very little. A trompe-l’oeil pairing of squid with calamarata pasta just so happens to feature a perfectly judged, immaculate sauce; a petit aioli is shockingly unadorned but every component is exactly where its temperature and texture needs to be.
Chef Florence Knight who’s responsible for the menu at Sessions Arts Club.
Front of house Jon Spiteri in a red hounds tooth bespoke three-piece suit lights a candle; simple, but elegant place settings; the bar.
A clever classic: Squid, tomato, and calamarata.
Chef Florence Knight briefing her team in the kitchen before lunch service in late August, 2021.
Left: Pork belly with fennel and orange; right: eel, potato, creme fraiche, and roe.
A minimalist menu is perfectly at odds with the maximalist dining room and many flamboyant personalities.
Grilled mackerel with datterini tomatoes, capers, and lemon leaves the kitchen for the dining room.
Front of house Spiteri again, next to one of Sessions’s many pieces of original art.
The equally beautiful and grand bathroom with central sink, brass taps, and fancy soap.
Don’t be fooled by the unassuming red door. Yes, that is the entrance.