There were several things that drew me to the all-new Leroy, from the people who once made Ellory. For example, any restaurant that purposefully combusts and begins again with a name like a drunken memory is good by me. “Wheresssh Lerooooooy?” diners might say, searching for this new home of the now-defunct Michelin-starred spot. Also, I love that Ellory won a star, hung about for a couple of years and then suddenly called it a day. Marvellous.
As a person who is paid a salary to widen my arse circumference by eating dinner, I care less and less for Michelin’s baubles. They’re splendid for chefs to receive, I can tell, but by Christ they’re a prat magnet. Who wants to eat dinner surrounded by bores who collect dining anecdotes like they’re Panini football stickers? Hell is 10 courses in a bright room staring into a sterile open kitchen where chefs erect petals into pyramids with tweezers. No, give me a dark, noisy, naughty wine bar with a pleasing menu like Leroy any day. One where no one can tell that I’ve kicked off my shoes, and where the music is loud enough to muffle the sound of me slagging off other food critics.
Also amazing: Leroy’s Instagram feed. It’s filled with pretty shots of fresh mackerel tartare, brown shrimp on glossy brioche, bowls of vibrant beetroot salad, the hippest of orange wines and lots of the staff smiling. The team at Leroy seem genuinely happy, which isn’t as common in today’s doomish hospitality climate as you might think.
Leroy sprang up this spring in Shoreditch, close to Selin Kiazim’s brilliant Oklava and within spitting distance of the very good Scandi spot Rök. Many years ago, this was a junction of London where my crowd would experiment with obscure research chemicals, perform guerilla gigs and wake up with Dominic from The Others’ sick in our fringe. But all marvellous things must pass: now it’s prime hospitality real estate and a place where thirtysomethings meet to drink Blaufränkisch Vom Kalk 2016 until 9.50pm and beg the babysitter for leeway.
Even so, there’s a vagabond sense of old Shoreditch about Leroy. Very few restaurants hit the ground in a fully formed state, proudly sure of what they are and are not, but Sam Kamienko, Ed Thaw and Jack Lewens have landed in perfect shape. Here is a simple, uncluttered room with an open, yet unobstrusive, kitchen. A single-sheet menu of readily identifiable foodstuffs: quail skewer, Basque ham and the gorgeously understated “a plate of smoked trout”, which turns out to be a world-class dish of smoked magic with a simple pickled red onion salad. This is great produce and no one is standing on ceremony about it. Service is joyful and unpushy: if you want to know the CV of the bonnet saucisson, they’ll fill you in; otherwise, they’ll simply leave you be to get quite drunk, as I did, on fleurie. This is what restaurants should be like.
A “snack” of salted crisps with smoky whipped cod’s roe appears. Then a plain white plate with the finest, saltiest Cantabrian anchovies. (By the way, yes, I did say crisps with cod’s roe. If you’re cooking dinner for friends in Rhyl or Rusholme tonight, simply open a bag of Walkers ready salted, serve with taramasalata for dipping and tell your guests that this is what they’re doing in London.)
Vegetarians will do beautifully at Leroy, or at least they did on the menu I ate. The beetroot salad was abundant with hazelnuts, and I demolished it like a large greedy squirrel. I was similarly enthusiastic about a plate of sublime white asparagus, roasted simply in butter and titivated with a dipping egg yolk.
The greatest thing on the menu, however, was the spiced purple broccoli. My guest argued in favour of a filthily good bowl of lambs’ sweetbreads in an earthy, nettle sauce, but no, this tender yet al dente broccoli appeared on a puddle of rich, curried oil with a cleansing swoosh of excellent ricotta. This dish was a rosy-cheeked ramble through an organic allotment before finishing up with your knickers around one leg and eating a Bombay Bad Boy Pot Noodle, and I, for one, am 100% supportive of this type of cooking.
The muscat creme caramel was light, banging, boozy and pretty much perfect. They serve my favourite El Maestro Sierra Pedro Ximenez by the glass. Ellory was good – we all loved Ellory – but Leroy is much, much better.