The Princess of Shoreditch in Shoreditch: “Ruth Hansom will only cook with the freshest and finest”
Walking up to the Princess of Shoreditch, I am entirely unaware that I’m about to become the princess of Shoreditch – haughtily sitting in my seat and being served beautiful food that feels like a secret. The place gives you no clues. It’s just a pub like any other, with chatty groups having an after-work pint. As I’m led up a spiral staircase to the venue that’s earned itself three AA rosettes, I’m told by the waiter that he likes to call this an “Alice in Wonderland” moment that takes you from one world into another.
Upstairs is a quieter space, and a small one at that. With just 30 covers, waiters have all the time they need to make diners feel special. Running the show in the kitchen is 27-year-old Ruth Hansom, who was not only the first woman to have won the Young Chef of the Year Award in 2017, but was also a finalist on 2020’s Great British Menu. A treat in store, indeed.
As I sip on my amaretto and cherry sour – which tastes like a cherry Haribo and is gone in seconds – I pore over the menu options. You can either have eight courses or five, and one of them is cryptically coined Snacks.
The snacks are three small, colourful dishes. We’re told to start with the lightest: thin slices of apple wrapped around crab, an explosion of fresh flavours with the slightest hint of aniseed. Next is goat’s curd in a tomato consommé glaze atop a cracker: the bite bursts in your mouth with cold, soft and melty goat’s cheese, while pleasant sourness from the tomato cuts through the delightful cheese. And finally, a venison tartare in soft tuile, topped with sticky dollops of confit egg yolk: a sublime abundance of umami, once again tapered perfectly by the tanginess of the capers in the tartare.
Usually, a bread course doesn’t get much hoo-ha from me, as it often serves an annoying purpose of being too tempting to ignore and filling me up before my meal. But this bread course is – at the risk of sounding much less refined – the bomb. We’re offered sourdough, brioche and seeded crispbread, alongside a quenelle of marmite butter and a swirl of parsley and chive butter. That butter is outrageous: not too salty like marmite is, but creamy and divine when melting on top of hot brioche.
Next up is the Wye Valley asparagus: a dish that champions Hansom’s passion for seasonal cooking and British produce. Two types of asparagus (white and green) sit pretty next to the pea custard, while shavings of black truffle are grated onto the plate (a bit of theatre I’m always on board with). The stunning dish revels in its lightness but is given the smoky naughtiness it needs from slivers of onion glazed in balsamic vinegar. This all went down with a glass of fresh and fruity 2020 Domaine Cauhape L’Eclipse, each sip bringing out the flavour more and more.
Next, the delicate yet meaty South Coast Gunard is served with an intriguing “risotto” of celeriac, carrot and fennel, which brings to mind the taste of a sweet and nutty carrot halwa. I ask for a spoon to scoop up the goodness at the bottom of the bowl. The Prince Squash and Goat’s Curd Ravioli that arrives next blows my mind. Soft braised goat is buried excitingly under a single yet generous raviolo. Sage and pine nuts are sprinkled on top – but it’s the lemon gel that sings the loudest here. It brings relief from the strong meatiness underneath and the sweetness of the squash and goat’s curd. A perfectly balanced dish that will remain in the memory.
The main event, entitled The Five Flavours, aims to hit the five basic tastes: sweet (pepper tapenade), sour (turnip), salty (seaweed), bitter (artichoke) and umami (lamb belly). Every tiny element comes together to create something harmonious. And while my lamb and the fat next to it is a tiny bit tougher than I’d usually like, the accompanying belly is a rich and delicious surprise on the plate. With this, a glass of the 2019 Selvapiana Chianti Rufina goes down an absolute treat.
Believe it or not, the dessert portion of the evening comes in three parts. While I’m not crazy for desserts, Hansom’s light touch thus far has me spirited. The Granny Smith is apple poached in whey with buckwheat underneath. All fine, but it’s the dill ice cream that has me wide-eyed. If you like dill, this dish celebrates it like nothing else. While the flavourful herb overwhelms the dish, I am nothing but pleased. Next, a 70% Dark Chocolate dessert goes on to honour beetroot with dehydrated beetroot, candied beet and candied hazelnuts. I mean, honestly, is this even dessert at this stage? But once again, I have zero complaints about the majestic mix of textures and smartly tempered earthiness. To finish, we’re served Petits Fours by Hansom herself. And all of a sudden I’m a little star-struck. Never mind her being on tv, though, her stardom stems from her unique food and its simple, produce-celebrating brilliance.
With the menu ever-changing, I’m confident that any time is a good time to go. You’re safe in the knowledge that Hansom will only cook with the freshest and finest. Go not only for the food, however: service is cheery and personal, the dishes come at a fair price at £75 for eight courses and the young chef is a person worth every ounce of support.
Photos: Virginie Viche
To book a table at The Princess of Shoreditch, 76-78 Paul St, London EC2A 4NE, call 020 7729 9270 or visit their website here.