Thistle & Leek

By Ellen Bhang · 08/16/2022    Suburbs · Gastropub · Pub · $$$

Like many New England chefs, Kate and Trevor Smith are passionate about cooking with the seasons. But what really gets our attention is how they use our region’s bounty to recreate the flavors they experienced while working abroad. At Thistle & Leek, the couple’s Newton Centre gastropub, they’re turning out a gorgeous array of small plates, each so vividly and thoughtfully composed that you’ll feel transported to the European destinations where they once cheffed.

Thistle & Leek food spread

The restaurant, with its dark wood paneling, vintage dinner plates, and old-timey botanical prints decorating the walls, feels like a love letter to British pub culture. But the menu—divided into Snacks, Veg, Fish, Meat, and Puds (desserts)—makes plenty of room for other European cuisines. A hearty Pork Schnitzel, for example, accompanied by fingerling potatoes, cucumbers, and cherry mustard, gives a nod to Trevor’s time cooking in Vienna. Similarly, Kate’s passion for Spain is captured by a smoky red pepper romesco accompanying Charred Leek, braised so that the allium turns sumptuously silky before it’s seared a la plancha.

The peripatetic pair—who also worked at New York’s Le Bernardin (Kate) and Gramercy Tavern (Trevor)—could have put down roots anywhere. But the couple, who met as line cooks at now-shuttered Craigie Street Bistrot and later worked for Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette at Coppa and Toro—knew they would make New England their home. We’re thrilled that they did, and judging by the happy patrons populating the place, we’re not alone.

Thistle & Leek dessert

You’ll see families seated at polished wood tables inside, and gathered on two patios: one sunny and bedecked with flowering plants, the other tucked under the restaurant’s awning. At a cozy slip of a bar, friends meet up to enjoy cocktails and a selection of Old-World wines, beers, and ciders. Our favorite place of all to sit is at the chef’s counter. From that perch, watching all the action of the open kitchen, you’ll feel like you’re on an adventure of your own.

chef at Thistle & Leek

A cocktail called “Factory Girl” (bourbon, Cynar, lemon juice, and Maraschino liqueur) is named for The Rolling Stones hit song. That’s not surprising, given that chef-owners Kate and Trevor Smith are both avowed music heads.

Sunday Supper, Thistle & Leek’s three-course menu for two, will return this fall. Definitely order the gently priced carafe of wine—they practically give it away on Sunday nights.

Proceeds from a special sausage plate recently went to World Central Kitchen, supporting relief efforts in Ukraine. Look for future menu items that direct aid to other charitable causes.

Must Haves

  • A recipe from Kate’s grandmother inspires the clam dip accompanying the thick and crispy, Swiss-German-style potato pancake. Freshly-shucked bivalves, braised in hard cider, are folded into a rich base of cream cheese and sour cream.

  • This genius version of roast chicken begins with poussin, a young hen so petite it could fit in the palm of your hand. Accompaniments are seasonal and inspired by the chefs’ whims, such as charred corn polenta or a risotto made from steel-cut oats.

  • Crisp meringue sporting a marshmallow-like center is the star of this dreamy dessert. It comes nestled on fruit compote—roasted plums one day, tart seasonal berries the next—topped with whipped coconut cream and a shower of crunchy nuts.

Fun Fact

It feels like kismet that the British pub-inspired restaurant is on a block named Piccadilly Square. In the 1970s, the Newton developer renovating the block named the project after his favorite crossroads: Piccadilly Circus in London’s West End.

Tastes of Thistle & Leek

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