Sam Coxhead has brought a slice of Shoreditch to St Leonards-on-Sea, making the most of the coast with picnics on the beach and close relationships with suppliers. Andy Lynes reports.
With some olive-green Farrow & Ball paint, antique wall and pendant light fittings and artwork by local artist Deborah Bowness, the Royal has been transformed from a bog-standard boozer opposite St Leonards-on-Sea railway station into a stylish gastropub.
This slice of Shoreditch by the sea comes courtesy of co-owners James Hickson and Jamie Waddell and chef Sam Coxhead, whose combined CVs include London restaurants St John, the Clove Club, Stephen Bull and the Square. Coxhead also spent a decade working at London's Great Queen Street and dishes such as fried baby artichokes with oregano and lemon (£6) and mackerel escabeche and saffron aïoli (£7) on the regularly changing menu at the Royal are reminiscent of that much-missed Covent Garden pub's bold modern European style.
"Lifestyle-wise, being down on the south coast is a lovely change and it's nice to be close to the suppliers as well. We can pop out and do little day trips and catch up with them," says Coxhead.
Being down on the south coast is a lovely change and it's nice to be close to the suppliers as well
In terms of suppliers, Coxhead gets salads and seasonal vegetables from Stonelynk Organics, most meat and salt marsh-fed lamb from Jamie Wickens at the Ship's Store in Winchelsea, and fish from Sonny Elliott of Rock-a-Nore Fisheries in Hastings.
"I talk to Sonny most days and try and let that guide the menu a bit in terms of what's looking good off the boats. He's been supplying us since we opened in October last year, so he's getting to know the things I like."
Recent seafood-based dishes have included wild sea trout baked whole en papillote before service. Coxhead pulls off ‘fat chunks' of the flesh to order and serves on top of a samphire, dill, mustard and Jersey Royal salad (£15).
"The first flush of mackerel I was serving with new season's coco beans, slow-roasted tomatoes and a loose basil pesto (£7). That went very well – so much so that it lasted about half a service," he explains.
Coxhead works with just one other chef but intends to increase the brigade to three when they are in a position to extend opening hours (they are currently open for dinner Wednesday to Saturday and lunch Thursday to Sunday). Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the spacious pub now seats about 40, but the popular Sunday lunch service will see several of the smaller tables turned, with a total of about 60 covers.
"I get the top cushion or one of the larger leg muscles of beef and I'll cook that slowly throughout the morning to keep it lovely and tender and leave it a little bit rare," Coxhead explains. The beef, or alternatively Old Spot pork (£15), is served with roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, roasted carrots and all the usual trimmings (£16), with Coxhead having also offered lamb and nut roasts during the winter.
The lunch menu at the Royal is similar to dinner, but with slightly less choice, partly due to Coxhead also offering a takeaway menu designed for picnicking (the pub is a five- minute walk from the seafront) that has included a roast pork, rocket, pepper and aïoli focaccia sandwich (£6) and Eton Mess (£3).
In the evening, Coxhead offers sharing dishes such as roast salt-marsh lamb with baked onions and romesco (£34 for two people) and loin of monkfish wrapped in ham with borlotti beans, San Marzano tomatoes, spinach and salmoriglio sauce (£34 for two people), which have proven to be best sellers.
During a highly enjoyable dinner at the Royal, it became clear that, although Coxhead's style is based around simplicity, there is attention to detail paid not just in the sourcing of quality ingredients but in the cooking processes, too.
A classic French-style terrine of layered pork mince, duck breast, chicken and duck livers and whole pistachios wrapped in bacon was flavoured with an onion and red wine reduction, clove, nutmeg, garlic and fresh oregano and served with a home-made Bramley apple chutney that had been maturing for more than six months. The price of just £6 is a reflection of the overall value for money the Royal offers, which extends to its wine list where the house wines on tap, supplied by Unchartered Wines in 20- or 30-litre kegs are priced from £18 a bottle.
"We're a young business. We're trying to not put too many people off," says Coxhead. We want to get them in and get a taste for what we're doing and then we'll see how it goes and how the demand picks up."
The Royal, 1 St Johns Road, St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex TN37 6HP
From the menu
- Griddled squid, fennel, chill, garlic and lemon £9
- Manzo di Pozza, rocket and Parmesan £9
Pork schnitzel, bull's heart tomatoes, anchovy, rocket and almonds £16
Roast duck breast, pommes anna, cherries and watercress £16
Bavette steak, roasted San Marzanos and horseradish £17Desserts
Tart citron £5
Chocolate terrine, raspberries and mint £5
Photography: Georgina Cook
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