KATY MCGUIN­NESS

Irish Independent - Weekend Magazine - - Eating Out -

P70 Leonard Street, Shored­itch, Lon­don EC2A 4QX, 0044 20 7739 1291, stleonards.lon­don

er­haps we would have felt dif­fer­ent about St Leonards if the weather had been dif­fer­ent, but on an icy Lon­don evening, the tem­per­a­ture of the wel­come doesn’t do much to warm us up. We’re early for our reser­va­tion and, yes, we would like to wait in the bar for our friend to ar­rive. Some­one brings us a drinks menu, but doesn’t come back to take an or­der. The place isn’t busy and there are plenty of staff, but they all ap­pear to have bet­ter things to do. Ev­ery time the door opens, an icy wind blows through the bar. Thank­fully, though, by the time we are seated, we’ve been adopted by a server who is more en­thu­si­as­tic than her col­leagues.

St Leonards opened back in the sum­mer and is a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween chefs An­drew Clarke and Jack­son Boxer. It’s in Shored­itch, the in­te­rior de­sign fea­tures an abun­dance of poured con­crete, and Boxer cooked for Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch’s 40th birth­day. In terms of cre­den­tials, that’s all you need to know.

The menu — di­vided into ‘shell­fish’, ‘small’, ‘hearth’, ‘sides’ and ‘dessert’ is prop­erly tan­ta­lis­ing — would it be greedy to or­der ev­ery­thing?

As it hap­pens, the food doesn’t all taste as good as it reads. Flamed oys­ters with beef drip­ping, green tomato and horse­rad­ish, for in­stance, are a non-event, the drip­ping bring­ing lit­tle to the party be­yond the un­pleas­ant mouth­feel of cold fat. Shell-on quisquilla prawns (“Eat the head,” ex­horts our server, and we do) with Old Bay may­on­naise, on the other hand, are a crunchy de­light.

Grilled leek heart, split length­wise, cooked on the grill and filled with al­mond cream is lus­cious, thanks in no small part to a gen­er­ous flurry of freshly grated truf­fle, but grey mul­let crudo (ap­par­ently with lardo, burnt kohlrabi and sa­vory) is aw­ful, un­pleas­ant, dis­play­ing an al­most com­plete ab­sence of flavour, other than from the pud­dle of broth in which it sits. The stand­out dish is a foie gras cus­tard with smoked eel and crunchy, puffed-up pork rind. It’s

so rich that it’s al­most too much. I don’t mean that — the reck­less, “to hell with it” aban­don is fab­u­lous.

Then it’s on to the dishes from the hearth, the ma­cho cook­ing-over-fire set-up that we can see from our ta­ble, with cuts of meat sus­pended above it. A Man­gal­ica chop for two is priced at a mus­cu­lar £60. The breed of pig orig­i­nates in Hun­gary, where its furry coat is a de­fence against the chill winds blow­ing across the Hun­gar­ian steppe, so it prob­a­bly feels right at home in St Leonards. The Man­gal­ica was al­most ex­tinct a cou­ple of decades ago — the high lard con­tent of the meat made it un­fash­ion­able — but has, in a star­tling rev­er­sal of for­tune, re­turned to favour now that high-qual­ity sat­u­rated fat has been de­creed a health food. There’s no deny­ing the chal­lenge of its ap­pear­ance, with barely 30pc of the chop meat and the rest lard; the flavour isn’t as re­mark­able as we’d ex­pected. (My guests find the fat-to-meat ra­tio prop­erly off-putting.)

Cod with cele­riac, citrus-sharp ni­hari masala spic­ing and lime pickle, though, is an unas­sum­ing-look­ing dish that en­cap­su­lates the bal­ance that ev­ery chef strives for, and a side of hispi cab­bage, brushed with molten pork fat, charred on the grill and topped with crisp bread­crumbs cooked in more pork fat, is di­vine. So are the coal-roasted pota­toes with a punchy salsa verde and crème fraîche.

Salted caramel and East In­dia sherry tart with car­damom ice-cream is sub­lime, while a savoury dessert of Can­tal cheese on drip­ping toast, anointed with clouds of grated truf­fle, is an­other dish that teeters on the edge of be­ing too much, but isn’t.

With a cou­ple of cock­tails, a bot­tle of Jurts­chitsch Sonnhof Grüner Velt­liner (£46) and Plai­ment Manseng Noir (£44) from a never-dull wine list, the bill for three comes to £312.19, in­clud­ing 12.5pc dis­cre­tionary ser­vice.

The food at St Leonards is by no means per­fect, but it is ex­cit­ing; I’d go back for the foie gras cus­tard and hispi cab­bage alone, if only they could warm things up a bit.

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