18 Phipp Street,
London EC2A 4NU
It’s a dish of such stark and startling simplicity that it seems more Dutch still life than Shoreditch starter – the tail half of a whole smoked mackerel, fat and fecund, its skin a burnished copper, its flesh an alabaster white. To the left, a blob of horseradish and a small pile of pert pickles. Yet such is the quality of every component – gentle smoke and sweet succulence meets eye-watering honk – that no man could wish for any more. It’s a masterpiece of minimalism, a paean to pure culinary confidence. And a dish that seems to capture the very essence of Leroy’s appeal.
Because Leroy, with its unassuming Hackney corner site and small open kitchen, big old-fashioned speakers, piles of classic vinyl and smartly utilitarian tables, doesn’t feel the need to shout. About anything at all. Shorts-clad, bearded waiters (the day is typically sweltering) serve beard-clad East London shorts-wearers, seemingly laconic, yet ever on the ball. Ask them about the most obscure of natural wines (and the people behind this ‘wine bar and restaurant’ are sommeliers Ed Thaw and Jack Lewens, plus chef Sam Kamienko, all previously of Ellory), and they’ll launch into the usual eulogy for all things unfiltered, organic and tasting of wee. Actually, that’s unfair. They have a hell of a wine list here, sensibly priced too.
Leroy, with its unassuming Hackney corner site and small open kitchen, big old-fashioned speakers, piles of classic vinyl and smartly utilitarian tables
Everything is clean and pure and stripped back to the bone. The incongruous garnish or sullen smear has no place here. But that doesn’t mean that portions are mean. There’s a fundamental generosity at Leroy, a kitchen unconcerned with parsimony and portion control. Cantabrian anchovies arrive unadorned by anything save a slick of oil. They’re soft, rich and gently powerful, all subdued salt and quiet power, with that blessed low umami growl. As with their smoked mackerel, the best ingredients are left well alone. Squares of fatty, chewy, properly piggy saucisson, lots of them, cut thin, are impossible to leave alone. Just like a bracing whipped cod’s roe, served with a fistful of crisps, and a sparkling scattering of gleaming trout’s roe.
Vesuvio tomatoes, served at room temperature and bursting with intense sun, are beautifully dressed, the acidity just right, and the seasoning too. There are flecks of marjoram, for more Mediterranean allure, and tiny black specks of something gently spicy. We um and ahh, but can’t quite put our finger on what it is. ‘Biber’, our waiter tells us, sun-dried Turkish chilli. He brings a small bowl from the kitchen. It adds a subtle, sly exoticism to the dish. Move over za’atar, there’s a new Eastern spice in town.
Yet while the kitchen is happy to let its star ingredients shine, it sure knows how to cook. Warm borlotti beans are mixed with warm datterini tomatoes, bursting with juice and on the verge of merry collapse. A blob of punchy pesto adds verdant swagger, and the whole dish is smothered beneath a blizzard of sharply sheepy pecorino. It manages to be both bold and comforting, and all those flavours and textures meld into a riot of summery succour.
‘Christian Parra’ boudin noir (the soft, gently ferric kind that comes in a tin and is served at 10 Portland Place) hides under properly dressed little gem leaves, with fistfuls of fresh peas and a beautifully fried egg. The yolk oozes into that black pudding, creating a mighty, meaty, mustardy slick. I want to lick the plate clean. But this being a restaurant and all that, a finger will have to suffice.
Quail skewers. There’s a fundamental generosity at Leroy, a kitchen unconcerned with parsimony and portion control
A fat double lamb chop is cooked blushingly pink, yet there’s nothing coy about its flavour. Topped with a sharp, spicy, herb-heavy mojo verde that melds the Spanish with the Mexican, it’s pure edible olé! Flavours are big but never brash.
Then pudding, a delicate rose water ice that could be a sherbet, the sort supped by fat pashas in their painted minarets to the sound of tinkling fountains. And gooseberry fool, heavy on the cream, with a puddle of decent honey.
The windows are wide open and a cool breeze cuts through the midweek torpor. A near perfect lunch, with barely a hair out of place, in a restaurant entirely comfortable in its own skin. It’s the sort of cooking that I adore – quietly confident, utterly assured, entirely in tune with the seasons. Yet not slavishly in their hold. If I lived nearby, I’d be here every day. I love Kamienko’s cooking. And I love Leroy. In fact, this might well be my favourite lunch of the year. A much needed glimmer of delight in an increasingly disconsolate world.
About £30 per head
What Tom ate last week
Lunch with my old mate Scott Pickett at Chin Chin, Melbourne. Isarn chicken, duck larb, beef pad seuw and jungle curry.
Lunch at Osteria Ilaria in Melbourne’s CBD. Fried zucchini flower, octopus and ’nduja, tuna crude and fusilli with beef ragu.
Lunch of salami pizza at A25. Then kimchi, baby back ribs and chilli wings at Kong.
Fiery noodle soup (Level 7 – Rambo) with fish balls at Dodee Paidang. Plus chicken larb, deep-fried prawns and green papaya salad with salted crab. Dinner at Scott’s new wood grill place, Matilda. Sublime.