Restaurant Review

The Princess of Shoreditch: This is a chef whose star is only just ascending

With a few tweaks, the Princess of Shoreditch, now under the helm of 26-year-old Ruth Hansom, could easily rise to the top of the haute-cuisine food chain, says Molly Codyre

<p>Hansom is slowly cooking up a storm in the industry </p>

Hansom is slowly cooking up a storm in the industry

At just 24, Ruth Hansom was a finalist on BBC’s Great British Menu, a feat for any chef, but particularly one of her age. She was working at The Ritz at the time – a five-year stint during which time the restaurant won its first Michelin star and Hansom herself won Young National Chef of the Year. It was only a matter of time before she was poached to head up her own place, and in July this year, The Princess of Shoreditch did just that.

Downstairs the pub seems like any other boozer, but a spiral staircase (be sure not to wear stilettos – you’ll pop right through) leads you up to what feels like a secret dining room, particularly because it was practically empty the day we visited. This set the tone for what seemed to be my resounding takeaway from The Princess of Shoreditch; this is a place steeped in untapped potential. It could be one of London’s most exciting classic restaurants, and I think it is well on its way to being just that, but there are a few rough edges that need smoothing beforehand.

But first; back to Hansom. There is no doubt she’s an immensely talented chef – years of training, numerous accolades and her stint on GBM show that this is a chef with knowledge and experience beyond her years.

You won’t be finding any snotty egg whites here

As a young woman working in food I hate to focus on someone’s age because it can be so irrelevant, but there is no doubt that professional kitchens are dominated by men – many of them older than 26 – so what Hansom has achieved deserves to be celebrated. It also seems like there’s a sense of this in her food, as if she feels she needs to prove this success on the plate, rather than simply living it. This is not to say the food is unpleasant – almost every element is beautifully executed – but rather that it is trying to say too much.

Snacks were a joy – tasty little tartlets of scallop nestled into a nori crisp were topped with acidulated radish. Creme fraiche brought a bracing freshness, while the deeply savoury nori allowed the nutty flavour of the scallop to shine. Crispy chicken skin can almost never go wrong – especially when it’s like this, cooked to a golden crisp and topped with silky chicken liver parfait and yoghurt, a dried grape offering an offsetting element of sweetness.

While the crispy-skinned red mullet could have been simpler, the taste is still divine

Slow-cooked St Ewe egg terrified me when I saw it on the menu. I think a lot about the concepts of food heaven and food hell that are marched out on Saturday Kitchen, and my hell would most definitely be a snotty egg white, something that seems synonymous with the concept of a slow-cooked egg. I was firmly proven wrong – the yolk was jammy, unctuous in a way it only could be when left to solidify slowly, becoming almost custardy in its texture, while the whites were firm yet delicate, no bogey-like textures to be seen.

It was, however, the ingenious mushroom parfait and goat’s curd combination that made this the highlight of the meal. The earthiness of the mushrooms was given a rich rework in this parfait, playing on the famed breakfast mushroom/egg partnership but in an entirely new and exciting way. It is dishes like this that show Hansom’s immense talent – simple, wonderfully cooked food that pays homage to its ingredients while still playing with technique and texture.

Game changer: who would turn down impeccably cooked salt-aged venison?

Crispy-skinned red mullet highlighted the depth of flavour of the fish by cooking it classically, and its accompanying “risotto” so nearly hits the mark. Finely diced vegetables – carrot, fennel and celeriac – are swimming in a bouillabaisse-esque sauce made from the bones and offcuts of the mullet. The flavours are all there, but the attempt to replicate the feel and texture of a risotto feels unnecessary and the overall effect ends up being a little overwrought, celebrating each individual element in its simplicity here would have had a far more desirable effect.

Berkswell cheese and truffle agnolotti are divine on their own, delicate pieces of kohlrabi offering a counteracting freshness, but it’s the pile of bacon foam in the middle that takes things off course. It is mountainous, like something you’d expect to find crowning a milkshake in a 50s diner, and entirely off-putting as it begins to melt, the creamy, bacon-flavoured juice seeping into each element of the dish, overwhelming everything in its wake.

It is the final savoury dish – the venison – that best illustrates my point about the importance of simplicity so well. The actual venison loin has been salt-aged and impeccably cooked to produce a piece of meat that is buttery in its tenderness and lightly blushing in the middle. Game can always be a difficult thing to master, and this venison purely amplifies Hansom’s skill in the kitchen. Every other element on the plate is equally as wonderful, cauliflower puree, venison faggot, truffle gnocchi, dehydrated apple, red cabbage and beetroot, but there is too much of it, and it inevitably swamps what is a masterful piece of meat.

Our meal came in ebbs and flows, but things truly peaked at the desserts. Chapel Down gin sorbet was a refreshing palate cleanser – exactly the kind of thing you need to settle the stomach after a long, undulating meal. But it is the final dessert, simply titled “fig and its leaf”, that steals the show and is inevitably the best dish of the meal. A delicate fig leaf-infused mousse swaddles a fig compote and sits atop an earl grey crumb.

Sweet spot: the final dessert, simply titled ‘fig and its leaf’ steals the show

This is a dessert that seems to open itself up with each mouthful, coming into its own as every element works together. It was exquisite and highlighted the exact concept I wish we had seen more of throughout the meal: assurance in technique and considered selection of everything that’s on the plate.

I have no doubt that if I was to go back to The Princess of Shoreditch in six months that it will have settled into itself. Hansom has only been there since July and she has already been awarded two AA rosettes and won the ‘best newcomer’ at the Top 50 Gastropubs awards. I wouldn’t be surprised if she works her way towards Michelin recognition soon enough. This is a chef whose star is only just ascending, and with a bit of time and added confidence, she could be one of the country’s greatest.

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