I don’t really care for Shoreditch as a destination. I feel old and tired there and people wander around in awful clothes. Maybe this sounds like something an aged Telegraph writer might say and I apologise. This is not supposed to be some anti-woke missive constructed of a 10-year-old trope and red-trousered rage. But it remains true that Shoreditch is not somewhere I would ever prefer to go.
Except to refuse visiting entirely would be remiss of me. Shoreditch is still home to countless restaurants that exemplify London’s business acumen and its flourishing hospitality scene; often flourishing despite all manner of challenges, government-made or not.
The list of fine spaces is long but I’ll list a few favourites: there’s Daffodil Mulligan, the chef Richard Corrigan’s fun pub and restaurant on Old Street roundabout; on the other side, towards Bethnal Green, is Lahpet, a fabulous Burmese fixture; Manteca sits in the beating heart of the culinary spectrum there and is arguably London’s most exciting Italian; the Turkish restaurant Oklava – whose head chef, Selin Kiazim, has shared recipes in these pages before – has for years been a place to find “food you want to eat”.
Opposite Oklava is Leroy, a classically Shoreditch spot, typical in its Lego shoe-wearing clientele and its faux grit. The food is excellent. In charge is Simon Shand, a softly-spoken, unassuming chef who emphasises provenance, sure, but doesn’t cry about bee pollen or fish heads, quite enjoyably: he just cooks. I asked him not so long ago about whether he felt nervous about working to retain the restaurant’s Michelin star. He said no. His job, he explained, is to produce very good food and ensure others in his kitchen do the same. Unless something terrible has happened over the last few months, that is what he does.
On the menu might be grilled ox heart, or a slab of roast pork cooked simply with carrots and apples. The trout is treated to a crispy fried oyster and bathed in warm tartare sauce.
Yes, fish cookery is something of note at Leroy. Here’s Shand’s brill with salsify and oloroso sauce.
BRILL, SALSIFY AND OLOROSO SAUCE
2 x 180g tranche of brill or other flat fish
4 sticks of salsify (can be replaced with parsnips)
2 large handfuls of chanterelles
6 sprigs of tarragon
400g fish stock
200g oloroso sherry
2 sticks thyme
2 cloves garlic in skin
Prep the salsify by peeling it and giving it a good wash.
In a pan, add 60g butter and once foaming, add the salsify, let it roast in the butter on a low-medium heat until golden and tender; a small knife should easily be able to go through it if cooked.
In a large pot, add 180g of the sherry and reduce by 1/2.
Add the fish stock and reduce by ¼, then add the cream in and reduce by ¼. With a little hand blender, blitz in 80g of cold butter. Pass this through a fine sieve. Season the sauce with lemon juice and a few turns of black pepper.
In a non-stick pan, with a small amount of rapeseed oil, place the brill dark side down. Add the garlic and thyme.
Let the skin darken and crisp up on a medium heat. Then add 50g of cold cubed butter, and baste the fish constantly, add a bit more butter if necessary to get a good basting action.
After a few minutes, flip the fish and continue to baste the fish off the heat. It’ll be cooked if a toothpick can be pushed comfortably with little resistance through the thickest part of the fillet.
While the fish is cooking, put a pan on and add the salsify to warm up with its cooking butter, add the chanterelles two minutes before the fish is cooked.
Warm the sauce separately, add the remaining 20g of sherry and blend with the hand blender.
Plate the fish and salsify with the sauce all over, garnish with the mushrooms and a few picked leaves of tarragon.