A Foodie’s Guide To St Leonards, East Sussex

By Matt Thomas

7 months ago

Move over, Margate: is St Leonards the South Coast town with the hippest hospitality scene?


St Leonards On Sea was once the favoured resort of Queen Victoria. Now, a  selection of restaurants, bars and eateries fit for royalty are once again turning attention onto the trending town, says Matt Thomas

A Foodie’s Guide To St Leonards, East Sussex

Pub interior with dark green walls

The Royal, St Leonards. Image: Saltwick Media

Queen Victoria loved St Leonards On Sea so much that she famously had the rocks in front of the Royal Victoria Hotel moved so that she could bathe there with ease. The glamorous villas of the new resort built by James Burton,  the most successful developer of the Regency and Georgian eras who built most of Bloomsbury as well as Regent Street and over 3000 other properties in the capital, once attracted not only royalty but the rich and fashionable in their hordes. Over a hundred years later, the seaside town is once again enticing townies and weekend breakers, lured by its ever-expanding foodie offer in addition to its art and music scenes and distinctive, boho vibe. 

Right opposite the St Leonards Warrior Square station is a handsomely proportioned, grand Victorian pub, aptly-named The Royal, decorated in modish dark greens with natural woods and lush foliage  Owner James Hickson was one of the pioneers in terms of putting the town on the culinary map. James has an impressive hospitality pedigree, having learned his trade at well-loved restaurants and gastropubs including St John, Great Queen Street, The Canton Arms and Moro. However, when he looked to make the leap and open his own place  in London, ‘it was just impossible without backing.’ He moved to St Leonards and turned his back on hospitality for a number of years, then The Royal became available and was significantly more affordable than properties in the capital. Feeling that there was a market for a higher level of cuisine in the town, he took a punt and opened in October 2019, five months before the first lockdown. 

Dish of pasta with white wine

The Royal, St Leonards. Image: Saltwick Media

Having negotiated his way through the trials of pandemics, industrial actions and economic fluctuation, James is now operating the Royal with head chef Andrew Taylor Gray (The Canton Arms, Hix, Petersham Nurseries and Winemakers Club). The gastropub has been accredited Michelin Bib Gourmand status and specialises in unpretentious yet imaginative menus which make the most of the wealth of local produce the area has to offer. It was important to James that the venue had an accessible, pubby vibe, with locals and regulars popping in for a pint or signature cheese toastie as well as appealing to diners. Menus are carefully balanced to appeal equally to vegans and vegetarians, seafood fans and carnivores alike, and playful, flavoursome dishes may include Crown Prince squash, braised green lentils & green sauce, monkfish tail, curried butter and cockles or rolled lamb saddle with carlin peas and mustard. It’s always advisable to leave room for pudding at The Royal, where you’ll likely be tempted by a decadent chocolate crémeux or a comforting baked custard with apples and oats. Add to this an informed and carefully selected wine list, where many wines are available by the glass or carafe, with bin-end bargains also available during the week.  

‘Things have certainly changed and keep on changing down here,’ says James. ‘It makes me really excited that St Leonards now has a  real food scene to outrank neighbouring Hastings and has become a destination in its own right.’

Boatyard Restaurant, St Leonards. Image: Caitlin Isola

Round the corner from The Royal on the Kings Road, the eagerly-anticipated Bayte has recently opened its doors within a capacious site  which formerly housing an indoor antiques market and brings with it a distinctly West London feel. The restaurant is the brainchild of Ruby Boglione (Petersham Nurseries) and Silvy Pilkington, with a kitchen run jointly by chef/farmer Joshua Dickinson (Le Chateaubriand, Paris) and  Christopher Trundle (formerly head chef at Lyle’s and Brawn in London). Bayte’s menu pays particular reference to the Italian recipes that Ruby grew up with including substantial vegan and vegetarian selections, and all of their meat is free-range and reared on organic farms. Alongside an inventive, seasonally inspired menu, Bayte offers up bar snacks including ham croquettas and parmesan fritters plus a cocktail list including signature cocktail The Bayte (Bayou Dark Louisiana Rum, Amaro Del Capo, Luxardo Cherry and bitters). 

Also on the Kings Road, early trailblazers Farmyard comprises a rustic and convivial restaurant, wine bar and wine shop specialising in natural wines. Sustainability is key for Farmyard, not only in supporting small wine producers and organic farms but also evident in their eco energy and tap water only policies. The restaurant runs from small plates to hearty group chef’s menus, where a selection of pre-arranged sharing platters are brought to the table in waves and can be pre-ordered for groups of 9-15 people. Ever popular is the Farmyard Sunday lunch, where cuts may include rare roast beef from Montague Farm in Pevensey or Salt Marsh Lamb and a creative, plant-based main that is no afterthought. These are accompanied by all the expected trimmings including that all important, bottomless red wine gravy and extras that may include truffled cauliflower cheese or roasted bone marrow with garlic and thyme. 

Colourful exterior of Heist restaurant

For those preferring seafood and fishy fare, Farmyard’s sister restaurant Boatyard focuses on local catches from the Hastings fishing fleet and responsibly-sourced seafood from surrounding areas. The restaurant offers a great value, small plates lunch on weekdays and is situated within the recently launched, buzzy indoor food market, Heist. Wittily named after its former incarnation as a bank, Heist’s vibrant, street food feel is straight out of Borough Market or Brixton Village, and you can visit for coffee and pastries and drinks or eat your way through an international street food map encompassing Japanese food, tapas, tacos, dirty burgers and hotdogs. With DJs on Sundays and talk of a karaoke basement bar to follow, hip Heist is currently open seven days a week and no reservations are required (except at The Boatyard Restaurant). 

Also much-lauded  is 3 Faces, tucked away round a corner off Norman Road. Originating as Del Parc in North London, the restaurant is famous for its chef’s menu, where you are only asked  about any dietary requirements or allergies then treated to a tapas feast by Chef Steve. There’s no set price but five or six dishes per person typically works out at between £35-£45 a head, plus there’s a great selection of Iberian wines and a fantastic Balearic house soundtrack too! 

More St Leonards Restaurants & Bars

Goat Ledge

 

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More Balearic vibes in this colourful beachside bar serving up fish or haloumi baps, coffees, ice creams and sundowners. www.goatledge.com 

Liban Coast

 

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Sunny Lebanese and Syrian cuisine and great authentic flavours in a small family-run restaurant opposite the beach. libancoast.com

Reel at Kino

Great brunch and memorable bloody Marys are to be had in the restaurant adjoining the quirky Kino cinema and art gallery on Norman Road. Stay on for an Indie film, a Ted talk event or a recital. kino-teatr.co.uk

Collected Fictions

 

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Tiny and quirky craft beer and natural wine bar and bottleshop on the London Road. @collected.fictions

The Piper

Late night venue with an inventive, impressive programme of live gigs and dance DJs. Norman Jay and Don Letts have played recently. Always a party vibe. thepiper.club

Supernature

 

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Expect wood-fired cookery and an eclectic menu offering up everything from creative bar snacks to affordable mains and “Disco Roasts” at this new bar and restaurant with a DJ booth and great sounds, mellow by day then cranked up for later. wearesupernature.co.uk  

The St Leonard

Cool, club-style pub on the London Road with regular art shows by local artists. thestleonard.com