A daily changing array of bistro dishes keeps the menu fresh and customers keen, says Janie Manzoori-Stamford
Restless creativity. That’s how Ed Thaw describes head chef Sam Kamienko’s cooking ethos at Leroy in London’s Shoreditch, and it sums it up perfectly. The restaurant and bar opened in March, just two weeks after sommeliers and co-owners Thaw and Jack Lewens shut up shop on Ellory, their two-and-a-half-year-old, Michelin-starred Hackney operation.
Bringing Melbourne-born Kamienko along for the ride, the trio hit the ground running. Just seven months in, the new venture bagged its own Michelin star, and while the Leroy team is undoubtedly thrilled with the accolade, they said from the outset that it was not something they sought. Instead, the focus has been on “doing exactly what we want to do”.
For Leroy, that means a conscious effort to offer excellent food and service without being stuffy. The menu takes inspiration from Kamienko’s time spent honing his craft in Paris – he previously worked at Le Verre Volé in the Canal St-Martin district – and it contains an ever-changing array of dishes that he and sous chef Michael Kress have dubbed ‘bistro plus’: “good bistro cooking with a slight edge. Overall, the food is a lot simpler [than at Ellory] and it’s not trying to be anything other than good food cooked well,” explains Kamienko. “It’s just good European-style cooking [that’s] not exactly bog-standard steak frites. It’s a little bit more.”
A large part of the ‘extra’ that Kamienko brings to his bistro food comes from constant tweaking, according to an extensive repertoire of dishes and the best of what’s available from the restaurant’s suppliers, which include Natoora for fruit and vegetables, Wild Harbour for fish, Swaledale for meat and Provisions for cheese and charcuterie.
“The menu at Leroy changes day to day, week to week,” he says. “I can’t stand stagnant menus, so it can be challenging at times, but I really enjoy seeing where the menu might end up on a Friday night compared to what it was a few days ago.”
It’s a bold move. Customers may love a dish only to find it scrapped in favour of a new delight on their next visit, but Thaw says it encourages diners to become regulars. “We try to avoid signature dishes because we get bored and a restaurant menu should evolve,” he says. “We want repeat custom and that only comes if our guests find something new to keep coming back.”
When The Caterer visits the menu has hit peak autumn, with an array of dishes brimming with seasonal ingredients and flavours.
“We’ve been through a lot of duck. The magret duck dish uses a breast from a foie gras duck, so it’s very rich,” Kamienko says, describing the magret duck, lentils and crab apples (for two or more, £48), which has also been made with mallard Aylesbury duck from the UK.
“We’re doing it really simply with a big pool of lentils. We’ve found this great Alsace bacon that’s heavily cured and smoked with lots of juniper. It gives an ordinary lentil another dimension. We make a jelly with crab apples to give it that acidic sweetness and then add some bitter leaves. It’s very autumnal.”
So too is the pumpkin, spinach and chestnuts (£12), which is made with either Violina or Delica pumpkins – two dense, sweet and rich Italian varieties – that are roasted, dressed with a beurre blanc and served alongside steamed spinach and peeled raw chestnuts that add texture as well as another flavour profile.
It is one of a handful of vegetarian dishes on the menu – others include braised greens and ricotta (£9), and chicory, radish and carrot salad (£7) – that have proved especially popular with diners, perhaps because of the effort that Kamienko puts into making them compelling.
“For me, they’re the hardest dishes,” he admits. “There’s a lot more to it than just a salad. Vegetables are so interesting and people are a lot more interested in them these days, so it’s a constant challenge – probably the biggest challenge on the menu.”
Co-owners Thaw and Lewens are also sommeliers, so the fact that the wine list is also ever-changing and exciting is hardly a surprise. It includes wines from Vigneti Tardis, their own wine-making project in Campania in south-west Italy, in collaboration with Michael Sager (Sager & Wilde), Jackson Boxer (Brunswick House and Chess Club) and Stevie Parle (Pastaio, Rotorino and Craft London).
“We have 20 suppliers for 100 bins, which is kind of madness,” says Thaw. “But, like the food, it keeps people coming back.”
From the menu
Snacks and charcuterie
Quail skewer £7.90
Goose rillettes £8
Palourde clams, parsley and garlic £14
John Dory, charred Hispi cabbage and girolles £21
Braised ox cheek and roasted cauliflower £23
A tranche of brill, green peppercorn and brown butter sauce (for two) £28
Poached fig with hazelnut ice-cream £7.50
Pear and almond tart £8
Leroy, 18 Phipp Street, London EC2A 4NU