Published 2 November 2021
by Josh Barrie
Simon Shand has a big job ahead of him as the new head chef of Leroy, which has held a Michelin star now for a number of years. But like the restaurant, a neon-lit, unassuming place in the back streets of Shoreditch, Shand is casual and relaxed. He will continue to do ingredients justice, he says, concentrating on putting together simple combinations that standout by their provenance and design, not by their process and complexity.
The food that earned the accolade, as well as the praise of critics and the industry alike, is not the classical Michelin-starred fodder. It is perhaps reductive that this need even be pointed out in 2021, given valued, quality restaurants have long been beyond only traditional fine dining. When the likes of Leroy and Brat were awarded stars many were quick to say, “finally, Michelin is noticing”. This is a conversation that needn’t be had again. Not here anyway.
The point is, Shand has the tricky task of maintaining what made Leroy special in the first place, without moving too far in either direction. It’s a careful balancing act. No doubt Leroy owner Ed Thaw wants to keep its reputation strong. Fortunately Shand appears perfection position to do just that, fortifying Leroy’s pedigree with a changing menu of refined plates that neither stretch nor play it too safe. I visited a number of weeks ago and found the same standout cooking, the same exceptional service, and the same bustling atmosphere that made the restaurant such a draw in the first place. There’s staying power, and that’s difficult to achieve.
“It’s [star retention] isn’t the point of focus,” Shand told me. “We concentrate on brilliant ingredients – using them well, and putting them together carefully. I’m not massively worried, though obviously it’s a consideration.
“There’s precision and thought. This is still a restaurant where we work hard to find beautiful flavour combinations. It’s not just basic cooking either. There’s plenty of technique.
“But we also want to present food that is simple overall – something relaxed. Leroy is that kind of more casual restaurant and that’s really important today.”
Leroy is modern. That’s the word. When I visited recently, dressed crab salt on top of crisp chicken skin, curls of prosciutto sat on figs – seasonal, of course – burrata and basil, and cod cheeks were treated with butter, parsley, and croutons, and served with garlicky mashed potatoes, as silken as any. The use of butter and salt in Michelin-starred cooking will always be crucial in so many kitchens, if not forever universal.
Shand took the time to talk as service calmed down. His approach, he explained, is a culmination of formative years spent working across the country. His ideals are “bringing ingredients that naturally grow together on the plate together” and that is reflected in his menus.
The chef started in hospitality while at college, where he began working in a cafe, both front and back of house. After two years at Gravetye Manor where he was a chef de partie, he went on to work at Anthony Demetre’s seminal restaurants Arbutus and Wild Honey, where he rose to become junior sous. A year at Frenchie followed, before his first head chef role at the Corner Room at Bethnal Green Town Hall. So it’s not as if this is a coup of an appointment, or that Shand has inexperience leading Michelin starred teams.
If anything, there’s a great deal of thought to creating “thoughtful food, not showy cooking”. Maybe Shand is fooling everyone by being so pared-back and swan-like.
It is, also, a continuation of what has come before, when the modern European food Leroy is known for was established with great success by Sam Kamienko at Ellory and then Leroy.
Shand added: “It is a big thing to come in after someone did so well. You want to carry that on. That’s the element of pressure.
“But we have a brilliant team here. This is where food and restaurants are really progressing, and so that’s good to be a part of. Coming from a mix before, I do think I have a broad idea of kitchens and how they run today.
“I love how here we are moving on in that sense. We’re very much one team, everyone is working together and it’s working really well.”