He’s the owner and chef patron of a two-Michelin-starred London restaurant, named as one of the 50 best in the world, with a menu that boasts dishes like crispy pork jowl with Cox's apples 'in varying stages of decay'.

But it’s a far simpler culinary delicacy that started it all for Isaac McHale.  

“I wanted to learn how to make chicken pakora when I was seven years old," he said over the phone from The Clove Club in Shoreditch, "and that's the reason that I’m a chef today." 

The Herald: Pictured: Isaac McHalePictured: Isaac McHale (Image: Supplied)

Years before divine inspiration would strike via a side order of Indian street food, McHale was born on the Isle of Orkney, where he lived for two years until his family returned to Glasgow.

“While other people were playing football, I’d go down to the cash and carry on Woodlands Road to memorise the names of all the spices," he said.

“At age nine, I asked for money instead of birthday gifts because all I wanted was to cook a multi-course Chinese banquet for my friends. 

“We had congee and wood pigeon.” 

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Though in another life he might have been an inventor or engineer thanks to a penchant for problem-solving, once set on becoming a chef there was little that could hold him back. 

Aside from a few pesky child labour laws.  

“I wanted to go and work for free in Indian takeaways,” he continued. 

“But I think they might have thought it was a sting from a newspaper trying to catch them employing unpaid workers because they all turned me down. 

“Really, I just wanted to get a big pillow of naan and slap it on the side of the tandoor oven. 

“Then when I was 14, I tried to get a job with Andrew Fairlie who was in One Devonshire Gardens at the time, but he asked me to quit school and become a full-time apprentice. 

“I hadn’t even finished my standard grades, so it didn’t work out.” 

The Herald: Pictured: Isaac McHale in the kitchen at The Clove Club KitchenPictured: Isaac McHale in the kitchen at The Clove Club Kitchen (Image: Anton Rodriguez)

Finally (just) old enough to secure a part-time job, McHale took up a Kitchen Porter position at Stravaigin on Gibson Street, stuffing chef's utensils in his school bag for evening shifts after the last lessons of the day had finished. 

In the following years, he would attend university to study Food Chemistry and work at restaurants across Glasgow like John Quigley’s Mojo or the Art House Hotel on Bath Street. 

 It was there that he honed his skills by befriending a veteran sushi chef who quickly recognised a budding culinary talent. 

“He had a son the same age as me,” he said, “and I think he saw how willing I was to learn.” 

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With little opportunity to pursue his career as he would have liked to in Japan, McHale instead moved to Australia.

Soon enough, however, he came to the realisation that “anyone who had any kind of reputation” had earned their stripes a little closer to home. 

“Australia was the other side of the world, and I missed my family, friends and nights out at Optimo. 

“I didn’t want to move to London at first but knew that it was where I needed to go to work in Michelin-starred restaurants. 

“I’ve just turned 43 which means I’ve now spent 21 years in Glasgow, one in Australia and 21 In London. 

“I feel like I’ll never call myself a Londoner though, I’ll always be Glaswegian.” 

Once back on British soil, the Glaswegian worked with Brett Graham at the Ledbury and rose to the rank of development chef before deciding to go it alone and establish The Clove Club in 2013. 

Then came the Michelin stars, one in 2014 and a second in 2022.

The Herald: The Clove Club - Shoreditch Town HallThe Clove Club - Shoreditch Town Hall (Image: Jian Wei Lim)

Although you won’t find any overtly patriotic dishes like haggis or Cullen skink on his globally renowned tasting menus at The Clove Club, Scotland is proudly represented with seafood plates of raw Orkney scallops and wild tuna belly. 

“I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world”, he said, “and know that some of the best produce comes from the UK, and Scotland in particular”. 

The Herald: The Clove Club Raw Orkney Scallop - Anton RodriguezThe Clove Club Raw Orkney Scallop - Anton Rodriguez (Image: Supplied)

Asked if a love for local fare would ever tempt him to bring his culinary star power back to Scotland, McHale says that a long-term lease will see him based in England for the foreseeable future. 

And besides, with a wife from Edinburgh, staying put shrewdly avoids potential arguments over which city to call home. 

But even while preparing for another busy service at a restaurant that he can rightfully claim to be one of the world's finest, Glasgow is never far from his thoughts.

The Herald:

“We’ve just celebrated our 10th anniversary, which is a grand old age for a restaurant, especially in London. 

“I often think back to my teenage years in the West End and all of these chefs I used to look up to, buying their recipe books from Oxfam on Byres Road. 

“Now they’re my friends, and I have their numbers in my phone book. 

“It’s amazing to think that the people who were my heroes have become my peers. 

“..and that it’s all down to chicken pakora.” 

The Clove Club is located at 380 Old Street in London.