What's the draw
At face value, lots of what you'll find at St Leonards could be the result of half an hour spent on a 'cool London restaurant generator' website. Shoreditch backstreet location? Yep. Sparse, Nordic-looking dining room? Affirmative. Wood-fired grill? Mm-hmm. Burnt hispi cabbage on the menu? You'd better believe it. But Jackson Boxer and Andrew Clarke are real chefs' chefs: as the duo behind Vauxhall's Brunswick House, they've built a reputation for inventive, seasonal menus that blend global influences into minimal dishes that let their ingredients sing and that's exactly what you'll find here.
What to drink
Whether you're walking in and facing a half-hour wait or you've got a reservation, start at the bar. We sunk a whistle-clean Tuxedo, a crisp martini-style serve with a hint of warming spice and an almost imperceptible note of watermelon. With the food, we enjoyed a natural malbec – tannic, with rich black fruit and a farmy funk – from the Loire by winemaker Puzelat-Bonhomme. And you should try one of the Vigneti Tardis wines, too – a collaboration between Boxer and a few industry friends including Stevie Parle and Michael Sager, it's produced for them in Campania, Italy by Bruno de Conciliis and Leroy sommelier Jack Lewens. We tried the Venerdi, a white blend of fiano and malvasia, full of buttery brioche notes with an undercurrent of pistachio and Italian hard cheese.
What to eat
Food here veers from undeniably delicious to more than a little divisive. On the latter, a dish of punchy, full-on smoked eel with a tomato consommé and rich, custardy foie gras probably shouldn't work, and although we loved its contrasting textures, with requisite acid and umami to counterbalance the foie gras's richness, plenty of others might find it a challenge. Straighter down the line, though, were a plate of charred late-summer vegetables that could have been picked and cooked in Florence or Provence; zingy, briney dressed oysters; lean, gamey aged bavette steak, sliced against the grain and served with cured bone marrow shavings; and a sherry-infused salted caramel tart, so gloriously unchallenging in its deliciousness we could have eaten two. Yes, the dining room, the flames and the menu might come off a little like hipster food virtue-signalling, but the reality of the dishes puts flavour, texture and substance way before style.
Small plates from £5; wine from £4 by the glass. 70 Leonard St, London EC2A 4QX; stleonards.london