Jackson Boxer and Andrew Clarke’s latest restaurant St Leonard’s will be opening on 4 June with Simon Ulph as head chef.
Boxer (pictured right) and Clarke’s (left) first joint venture and second London restaurant, following Brunswick House in Vauxhall, is opening on Leonard Street in Shoreditch.
“This has been an opportunity for us to build a kitchen to give free reign to all of the ambitions that we both share, which have been slightly limited by the circumstances we work in in Vauxhall, and to conceive and develop a project from absolute scratch,” said Boxer, speaking to The Caterer.
“Both Andrew and I needed a new project, we needed a fresh environment. We have built somewhere we both want to work, and hopefully people will want to come and be there.”
Inspired by a weekend of open fire cooking at Boxer’s family farm in West Sussex, the restaurant will be centred around a raw bar and a long-fired hearth.
“It lends itself to some very homely dishes,” added Clarke. “It will have a nod to south-west France. I had a project a couple of years ago called Bastien which this is borne out of, the fireplace particularly. We wanted to balance that with a raw bar, with a cleaner finish in its flavour and interpretation, and a slight nod to Japan.”
The site also takes inspiration from the street, on which stands St Leonard’s Church, and its French namesake, Saint Leonard of Noblac, who became a hermit in the forests of western France.
Boxer described the feel of the site as “hermetic”, and while grey walls will retain the industrial feel of east London, indoor trees will evoke the feel of the forest.
Although starting from scratch with the former Eyre Brothers site at 70 Leonard Street may not have been the cheapest option, they said they had saved on costs by upcycling, DIY, and using “humble materials” while veering away from anything “ostentatiously luxurious” to create a restaurant that is “elegant but relaxed and comfortable”.
Clarke and Boxer said they would be on-site permanently for the next few months to oversee the new team, which includes restaurant manager Edie Jobson, formerly of the Groucho Club; general manager Paul Bishop, formerly of Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant and the River Café; and Simon Ulph, who joins from his role as head chef at the Swan at Chapel Down in Kent.
“Simon’s incredibly talented, we’re hoping to give him a lot of support so that he can carry on developing as a chef,” said Boxer.
They are keen to ensure their staff are able to have “sustainable” careers in hospitality and aren’t burning out, a problem so rife in hospitality. “There’s no point worrying about sustainable food if we aren’t worrying about sustainable human resources,” said Boxer.
It’s an issue that is particularly close to Clarke’s heart. Clarke launched the Pilot Light campaign earlier this year, which aims to give chefs an outlet to discuss stress-related issues.
“We have some exciting things coming up towards the end of the year,” he said. “The main thing we’re trying to do is get people to talk more. If mental health has always been a taboo, it’s only us keeping it a taboo. The more we encourage people to talk and share stories, it just might help others going through it.”
The pair are also ensuring the sustainability of the business through ResDiary, a booking system they started using at Brunswick House after the most recent Mother’s Day when more than a third of booked guests failed to show up. Boxer took to social media to vent his frustration, even penning a piece for The Observer, and his sentiments were echoed by many restaurateurs.
“It was unbearably sad, the waste of time and effort. That for me was a line in the sand,” said Boxer. They now use ResDiary, which charges guests a fee should they fail to show up for their booking.
“We did worry that it would put people off booking, but it hasn’t. Bookings have not diminished, and the no-show rate has dropped away to nearly nothing,” he said.