Looking for Lucian...........................................................Sally, Clarke's Restaurant, 122 & 124 Kensington Church Street, London

Thursday, July 10, 2014

London is in the detail, especially when it comes to drawing. Whether seeking to illustrate the pace-set with their glamorous memberships to Shoreditch House or those lounging in meadows of wild flowers in London Fields, I can't help but see all these intricacies. And when it comes to observing such finer points the iconic painter Lucian Freud comes immediately to mind for Freud saw detail like no other, from a vantage point of being unashamedly honest.

As I have been drawing away in my London studio I've become increasingly interested in researching Freud's point of view and keen to hunt down some of his old haunts. The restaurant Clarke's on Kensington's Church Street came up on my radar as from the book Breakfast with Freud; A Portrait of the Artist, by Geordie Greig. Reading this text I learnt that in Freud's later life it was here that he enjoyed friend-filled brunches on Saturdays.

Clarke's is in the plumy Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, a district seemingly a world away from the rough strokes of a rogue artist. But Freud moved through many circles; including gangsters in the old East London and courtiers on horseback in Hyde Park. Though diverse circles, in my mind these contained a good deal of glamour for Freud -- warts and all.

I wanted to sit in Clarke's and maybe see something of what he saw in this world. Perhaps he noted the floral view of the Churchill Arms across the road, an old pub that looks as if it's from a Hobbit inhabited Shire. Or perhaps the English establishment sitting in Clarke's, barking orders at the waiters for more bread, olives or wine.

Perhaps the attraction for Freud was that he found the staff and the atmosphere of Clarke's attentive and welcoming.  Or maybe he found the place to be an extension of his studio (of which there were a few), somewhere rich with the warmth of hard work and for his sitters, the generous gamey-meals baking away in the studio's oven. Complicated as the man may have been, he was however a tremendous host and the idea of him cooking for his models is a romantic antidote that I love.

This perhaps influenced my decision to order the Foie Gras with a sugary marmalade -- displayed in fine detail on a smart white dish, it seemed a fitting choice. This rather contrasted to my previous enjoyment of this controversial dip taken right from the jar in a tiny Paris apartment one night after Fashion Week. This French apartment wasn't glamorous, but the view of Paris glowing orange and expansive below certainly complemented the exquisite taste.

The waiter told me about the renovations that Clarke's had undergone recently and I figured the place must have changed a lot since Freud's visits. One room is now filled with his beautiful etchings including one of a sleeping hound that is incredibly fine and delicate. I imagined Freud treating his guest here and paying his tab with art swaps of the grandest kind.

I don't think anyone can get in the mind's-eye of another, but as I dinned at Clarke's I noticed a huge vase of flowers near the bar. Bright Foxgloves and variegated leaves commanded my attention; this display of natural detail reminded of Freud's paintings far more than the people dinning around me. Something hyper-real -- nature was what Freud turned to and painted in astounding detail when English (High) Society became for him, too loud and too much.