The Edition Hotel’s second-story restaurant, the Clocktower (5 Madison Avenue, 212-413-4300), imports more than just the transatlantic talent of English chef Jason Atherton, offering a style of cooking that provokes grown-ups to feelings of childhood nostalgia and playful engagement.
That’s something absent from the current Manhattan dining scene, dominated by aspirational comfort foods like $10 egg sandwiches and sage-smoked brownies. But for the chef who pioneered cult-status dishes and drinks at his London restaurant Pollen Street Social, including a smoked-quail appetizer portioned out as a multi-course tea service, and a creamy peanut-butter-and-jelly cocktail that can double as dessert, that mouthwatering good feeling is all Atherton knows.
“We get this small bit of people’s time. You’re at work all day, then you come in for dinner, and we’ve got you for two, three hours,” Atherton says, aware how much first impressions matter at a new restaurant. “So we take the time to train the staff to make the experience fun and interactive, then we taste the food, and say, ‘OK, if you’re off tonight, do you want to eat this dish? Are you going to say, “I can’t wait to come back to that restaurant for that dish”?’ No one will ever go back in their memory and say, ‘I remember this dish from ten years ago — it was so amazing to look at, but it didn’t taste very good.’ Your memory will erase that.”
That spirit inspires dishes like a hand-chopped steak tartare paired with a roasted marrow bone; diners are encouraged to stir the marrow into the chilled patty of pickled artichoke and mustard-leaf-studded beef. Meanwhile, Atherton was advised by the restaurateur Stephen Starr, a partner in the Clocktower, and fellow New York City chefs. Eleven Madison Park’s Daniel Humm raised his awareness of Americans’ preferences for portion size and acidity, which is apparent in a tomato salad enriched by tomato jelly and centered around a fresh hunk of local Lioni burrata.
Local chefs also introduced Atherton to the idea of shopping the Union Square Greenmarket, a concept foreign to London chefs but one that quickly proved useful. “We couldn’t get a decent potato,” Atherton recalls. “Back home we use ratte potatoes to make the mash. The potatoes we make here are quite sweet — not sugary, but they’ve got butter and a little cream, a lovely waxy potato flavor — and I couldn’t get that flavor profile I wanted. So the way we did that was by going to the market and finding potatoes. It was fun.” He settled on tiny, butter-yellow yukon golds, which he now pours on plates of roasted king salmon and slow-cooked pork belly like a sauce.
Execution at the front of the house matters as much as the back. The restaurant is spread across a maze of colorfully mod clubhouse chambers, bursting with British knickknacks up to the crown-moulded rafters. Get lost deep enough and you’ll stumble onto an inviting billiard room and gold-hammered bar serving the signature drinks of Atherton’s globetrotting bar manager, Gareth Evans.
There, a game of pool and cocktails are a good way to end the night, engaging in adult behavior while slurping a Cheerios-milk-and-bourbon “Cereal Killer” from a translucent half-pint carton. If things get messy, Atherton promises the evening will remain one you won’t want to forget: “I say to my guys in the brief before dinner, at some point someone tonight might knock over a drink. So what? We’ll get that person’s dinner, and lucky them!”