From the eclectic opulence of the 18th-century Brunswick House in Vauxhall to the industrial minimalism of Shoreditch, chefs Jackson Boxer and Andrew Clarke continue to prove they can master whatever style of restaurant they put their hands to, while sticking to their signature seasonal British cuisine. Having delighted even the harshest of critics with their surprising and carefully curated menus at Brunswick House, the pair have extended their already impressive CVs (Boxer: Margot, Great Queen Street, Clarke: Anchor & Hope in Waterloo) by flying the home flag and opening St Leonards in the heart of London’s food scene in Shoreditch.
Housed within the former Eyre Brothers site in Shoreditch’s Leonard Street, the relaxed space feels light and airy, with a medley of smooth walnut tables and chairs, and soft banquettes in ochre shades juxtaposed with concrete, marble and the open kitchen’s stainless steel surfaces. A row of floor-to-ceiling windows runs the full length of the restaurant, providing a flood of natural light, while brasserie-style curtains at the lower half of each window discreetly hide the passing foot traffic from view.
When Brummell visits, every corner of this open-plan space is alive with activity. The large horseshoe-shaped bar greets us as we enter the restaurant and we make a mental note to pop back for a light lunch one afternoon; this is, we think, an ideal spot for a glass of wine (from a very generous selection) and a delicious white clam pie from the hot bar menu. Further along, smoky embers emanate from the hearth – where deliberate charring elevates even the simplest ingredients into robust dishes – while a bed of oysters and a pair of whole fish lay open mouthed at the ice bar ready to be devoured.
From the wafts of smoke that fill the air to the fresh fish and seafood on display, it’s immediately clear what sort of cuisine you are likely to encounter at St Leonards. A new menu is printed daily to ensure the freshest ingredients are available to diners but the dishes generally slot into categories of either shellfish from the ice bar, a selection of more robust fish, meat and vegetable dishes from the hearth and small plates from both food stations – alongside a range of snacks and sides. From the small plates, we opted for the rich and earthy beetroot with fresh almond, fromage blanc and black garlic, and the seriously good grilled leek, almond cream and summer truffle. Who knew just three ingredients could pack such a punch?
The vigorous offerings from the hearth include Dexter beef bavette with cured bone marrow, Middle White pork with cider and onions, and a whole fried red mullet. We opted for the black bream, fennel, lemon and caper berries – a particularly mouth-watering main dish accompanied by a side of sprouting broccoli, ham knuckle and smoked chilli and, of course, a serving of moreish salt and pepper fries.
As well as the aforementioned wine list, which offers a vast selection by the glass, St Leonards’ cocktail list should not go overlooked. We opted for the non-alcoholic ‘run for the roses’ with rose bud vinegar, Seedlip aromatic spice and hawthorn, and the ‘paloma’ – a refreshing blend of tequila, grapefruit juice and soda water, all the while supping on water from the restaurant’s artfully selected glassware, the squashed circular shape of which fits satisfyingly into the hand.
Despite feeling quite full, we decided to round off our meal by ordering from the small but appealing dessert list – after all, everyone knows pudding takes up a different compartment in the stomach. Our kesar mango sorbet provides welcome revitalisation, while the salt caramel and East India sherry tart with cardamom ice cream is, by comparison, superbly complex and fragrant with a subtle hint of sweetness.
Prices range from £17 for a single-course lunch with wine, to £100 for a three-course meal for two with drinks and service.
In just a few weeks, St Leonards has acquired the effortless atmosphere, friendly service and show-stopping menu you would expect from a restaurant that has been popular for many years; a testament to the diligence of Boxer and Clarke and their thoughtful and delicious offerings.
St Leonards, 70 Leonard Street, Shoreditch, London EC2A 4QX; stleonards.london