‘I don’t get it’ is something we all say regularly. Or should do anyway. It’s okay not to get it, and not getting something is an important part of our review process at The Infatuation. It means trying again. Working it out. Making sure. Eating more. And then eating some more.
Take our experiences at St Leonards as an example. The first time we went, we left feeling like a teenage boyfriend in an art gallery: confused and filled with self-doubt. Naturally, this meant a second visit a few months later. It left us feeling the same, only now we were channelling Philip Marlowe. We were onto something. Something fishy. Something not quite right. Like a pack of Revels that are entirely coffee creme. So we went one more time. And then, finally, we were sure. Sure that St Leonards is not a good restaurant.
Every time we’ve been to St Leonards we’ve entered confidently, like a drunk getting in the wrong Uber, before leaving disappointed, like a drunk getting out the wrong Uber. This disappointment is never solely because of one so-so meatball sullying a lunch. Or a table of Thomas Pink shirts prattling through your dinner. Rather, it’s these things and more. All at once. Average atmosphere, average service, and, more often that not, average food.
The menu at St Leonards doesn’t need an explanation, but you get one anyway. Snacks, raw bits, shellfish, stuff cooked on fire, sides. You’ll order a £9 clam in Sichuan oil because you don’t know what a £9 clam in Sichuan oil looks or tastes like. It looks like a clam. It tastes overpoweringly of Sichuan oil. A plate of grilled vegetables is also underwhelmingly truthful to its name. Irony is not on the menu at St Leonards. Just try their fish finger sandwich. It may well be what’s fishy about this place, because it literally (and unpleasantly) stinks of Billingsgate.
There’s no shame in being confused here, because this is a confusing restaurant. For every delicious plate of beetroot and black garlic, there’s a 35 minute wait for a tepid piece of £24 hake. You’ll rave about the crunchy XO cabbage, and then wonder why nobody is able to advise anything beyond “a medium red” from a very proper wine list. Red or black. Good or bad. This restaurant is a gamble with little reward.
But after a while, you will understand St Leonards. The food is miss, and sometimes hit. The service is mainly miss. And even the space, which is big and airy: bar area at the front, dining area at the back, feels bafflingly subdued when full. That’s this restaurant to a tee. It’s swings and roundabouts. And once you’ve realised that, you’ll understand that some things aren’t worth trying to get.
Clam, Sichuan Oil, Coriander
Want a £9 clam that tastes overwhelmingly of Sichuan oil, or 36 Freddos? Thought so.
Like so much here, these look the part, but don’t taste it. There’s a good amount of crunch but not much else.
Fish Finger Sandwich
If Captain Birdseye wasn’t a fictional character, he’d be turning in his grave. This really is quite unpleasant.
Leek, Almond Cream, Truffle
One of the hits. A whole rich and creamy leek with a herby oil and some charred-ness going on. If only all the dishes here could be like this.
Beetroot, Black Garlic, Walnut, Creme Fraiche
Another hit. This is one of the best plates of beetroot we’ve had, and is much more unusual than the cheese and walnut combo you see elsewhere.
Celeriac, Duck Offal, Cherry
Three warnings about this plate. 1) The cherry stones should really come with an FYI. 2) You can’t taste much apart from the duck offal. 3) It’s not worth ordering.
You know when you eat one of those tomatoes that makes you feel like you’ve never eaten a tomato before? This isn’t like that. It’s like eating a plate of grilled vegetables.
Lamb Rib, Salted Cucumber, Burnt Honey
These look good. All glistening and brown, like a sexy sunbathing Twix. They just don’t taste of very much. If you’re into gnawing bland meat, go wild.
Sausage, Tomato, Pepper
The sort of plate your parents used to cook at those summer barbecues with Zero 7 playing, discussing those new fangled DVDs. Perfectly fine.
Lamb Caillette, Split Peas, Pork Fat
This is St Leonards on a plate. It would probably be quite nice if it wasn’t served at room temperature.
Hake, White Beans, Trompettes
There is simple and tasty, and then there is simply tepid and uninteresting. This is the latter.
Cabbage, XO Crumb, Pork Fat
Without doubt, the most consistent thing about St Leonards. Extremely delicious.
Broccoli, Ham Knuckle, Smoked Chilli
This has got the punch of a northern bouncer. It’s nice.
Rhum Baba, Smoked Pineapple, Treacle, Ice Cream
Another captain. Morgan this time. He’d have probably enjoyed this a bit too much, because it’s heavy on the booze. Other than that, it’s just okay.