What was formerly home to St Leonards, and before that Eyre Brothers, has been reinvented once again and turned into modern Mexican restaurant Zapote. It’s the debut from Mexican chef Yahir Gonzalez (who was heading up Aqua Nueva) and hospitality veteran Tony Geary (who’s managed Sketch and the Aqua group in his time).
The layout of the restaurant hasn’t changed from the St Leonards days – there’s still an ice bar, open charcoal grill and horseshoe bar – but the pair have put a fresh spin on the interiors, warming it up with terracotta on some of the walls alongside a large mural, cacti dotted throughout, upcycled wooden chairs, rattan lampshades and lovely ceramics.
The bar is serving up snacks – the likes of whitebait & habanero ali-oli and crispy pork skin with pico de gallo – alongside tequila and mezcal cocktails. But the main restaurant menu is where Yahir Gonzalez is really putting his own spin on familiar Mexican dishes, including making tortillas in-house using native corn varieties. And what tortillas they are – truly some of the best we’ve ever had.
Happily, they make quite a few appearances on the menu: folded into a delicate little quesadilla filled with smoky wild mushrooms and just enough cheese to hold it together, stopping it from turning into an oozing mess; crisped up into a tostada topped with actually spicy chilli-flecked crab and ruby red slices of fresh yellowfin tuna; and served on the side of a superb dry-aged beef ribeye with salsa roja and habanero aioli to make tacos.
We also loved the smoked aubergine, essentially a take on baba ganoush, where the smokiness was amplified by tamarind and chilli; the spiced, charred meat on the al pastor skewers paired with a vibrant citrusy guac and pork skin crispies; and the chorizo and potato, decorated with shards of melted burnt cheese giving a salty, umami hit.
On our visit there were only two official puddings, one being the borderline savoury coffee mezcal ganache, silky and warm with booze, a pistachio sponge and a corn pastel in the shape of sweetcorn, plus a couple of off-menu options. Though on the strength of the pecan pie and salted caramel ice cream, which gave big churro and dulce de leche vibes, they won’t remain that way for long.
Zapote delivers sophisticated, refined food without veering into super high-end territory, and we can’t wait to go back and eat the rest of the menu. A great addition to the neighbourhood.
70 Leonard Street, London EC2A 4QX