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St John

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26 St. John StreetEC1M 4AY London
United Kingdom
T+44 2033018069

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MTWTFSS
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Name: Chris Gillard
Date of birth: Unknown
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Owner:
Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver
 

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t John, London (The Second Return)

t John, London (The Second Return)

St. John

It seems St. John is simply a must visit for any foreign foodie. Typically, eaters and epicures from across the world, whether they be in London to consume Chinese, Indian or haute cuisine, each show their fealty to Fergus and make homage to Smithfields. And such was the case with Aaron (A Life Worth Eating), DB and Ulterior Epicure.  This was their first foray to St. John and my third (the other two consecutive visits being before its summer refurbishment).
 

St. John - The Menu

I made the schoolboy mistake of forgetting to bring my camera, so all the pictures are thanks to Aaron bar the green salad, which is from Ulterior Epicure and possibly shows where Aaron’s priorities lie.

St. John - The Bread

Bread & Butter: St. John Bread. St. John serves its own bread, which is baked below by the bar. It has soft, wholesome centre with firm crust and fairly open crumb. Doled out in dense, thick slices, it has good savour and is a very effective sponge. Discs of creamy butter are brought out with it.

St. John - Beetroot, Boiled Egg & Anchovy

Starter 1: Beetroot, Boiled Egg & Anchovy. Quarters of beetroot, halves of boiled egg and fillets of anchovy arrived with spinach and capers in a light olive oil dressing. The pickled beets had sweet-tartness and the boiled egg was creamy and rich. Anchovies added salty concentration as did the capers sour. The slightly bitter spinach substantiated the salad.

St. John - Jerusalem Artichoke Soup

Starter 2: Jerusalem Artichoke Soup. A simple, seasonal soup of Jerusalem artichokes with only onion, garlic and a touch of milk and butter too, had nice nutty sweetness to it. It also had good body: the knobby tubers had not been blended finely, so though smooth, still had palpable graininess. To borrow a friend’s description, it had chenille-like consistency.

St. John - Brown Crab Meat on Toast

Starter 3: Brown Crab Meat on Toast. Two pieces of pain de compagne, well charred, were thickly spread with brown crab meat, enriched with a little mayonnaise. The shellfish had deep flavour, but for me was a tad creamy and cloying, though the thoughtfully supplied lemon helped cut through this.

St. John - Roast Bone Marrow & Parsley Salad

Starter 4: Roast Bone Marrow & Parsley Salad. Four roasted bones, like Gaudi designed edifices, were served oven-hot with a garden-fresh salad of flat leaf parsley, capers and shallots, spoonful of sel gris and two crusty slices of trademark toasted sourdough. This is the St. John signature that people flock here from far and wide to find. Using the furnished lobster fork, the hot marrow was mined onto the toast and then garnished with refreshing salad and sprinkling of strong saline grains. Gooey, oozing, fatty marrow; fresh, peppery parsley; sweet shallots; zesty capers, a hint of lemon; sharp salty smack; crunchy bread: yummy, as always.

St. John - Grouse

Main 1: Grouse. The oven-roasted game bird, brimful of watercress, was brought with bread sauce and toast spread with offal and Madeira pâté. The crispy skinned grouse had flavourful, medium-rare flesh, but muddy meat cradling its undercarriage. The seasonal sauce, spiced with nutmeg, offered little in my opinion. The offal of liver, heart and other parts was rather toothy and intense, sweetened by the wine.

St. John - Smoked Eel, Bacon & Mash

Main 2: Smoked Eel, Bacon & Mash. Two sizeable fillets of smoked eel rested upon rashers of Old Spot bacon, which in turn, sat atop mashed potato. The eel, soft on one side, firm on the other, had lovely taste, but the mash was rather bland; I imagine it was there to offset the saltiness of the bacon, but as I did not eat this, I was, possibly, unable to appreciate the potato’s presence fully. The bacon was made from the world’s oldest pedigree of spotted pig, noted for its fatty, slow maturing character.

St. John - Hare Saddle & Lentils

Main 3: Hare Saddle & Lentils. Roasted medium-rare saddle of hare was partnered by Puy lentils, watercress and celery. The dark, falu red flesh was lacking the stronger, earthier flavour expected from hare, but its former savage subsistence was testified to by the bits of shot spat out. Puy, served rather al dente, were nutty and peppery, complementing the watercress; cuts of celery comingling among the lentils, were crunchy and juicy.

St. John - Ox Tongue, Beetroot & Watercress

Main 4: Ox Tongue, Beetroot & Watercress. Pink pieces of pan-fried ox tongue were teamed with more pickled beetroots, watercress and horseradish. The tongue, preserved in brine, then boiled before being put in the pan, was softer and more delicate than expected, although still with robust savour. Horseradish presented some perkiness, but a stronger spiciness would have been welcome, whilst beetroots and watercress gave textural variation and depth to the dish. The potent partnership of horseradish and beet is a common one in East European and Jewish gastronomy. In perverse retrospection, I compared the ox tongue’s texture to that of, what I would assume, a person’s tongue to be like…

St. John - Green Salad

Side 1: Green Salad. A plate of piled-high mixed green leaves garnished with horseradish vinaigrette accompanied the mains. Mustardy rocket, bitterish watercress, mild oak leaf and sweetish butterhead lettuce were linked with spicy horseradish heat. This dressing was delicious and the highlight of the crisp, crunchy salad.

St. John - Welsh Rarebit

Side 2: Welsh Rarebit. The second supplement was Welsh rarebit. A thick tranche of toast came totally coated with cheddar cheese imbued with mustard, Guinness, cayenne and Worcestershire sauce. The result was sharp, piquant, nutty, creamy warmth. However, it had to be had quickly before the cheese set and also, once through the cheddar crust, it was pretty much stodgy white bread.

St. John - Apple & Calvados Trifle

 

Dessert 1: Apple & Calvados Trifle. A brimming bowl of apple and calvados custard, layered with cream and covered with chopped up almonds was next. The trifle was tasty and creamy, with moist apples and crunchy nuts changing the consistency nicely. The calvados came less than uniformly distributed, so some spoonfuls were alcoholic whilst others sober.

St. John - Prune & Armagnac Ice Cream

Dessert 2: Prune & Armagnac Ice Cream. Decently strong Armagnac ice cream implanted with plump prunes was plated with a pair of skinny shortbread biscuits. The ice cream was smooth; the prunes, juicy; and the biscuits, crumbly.

St. John - Pear Crumble & Custard

Dessert 3: Pear Crumble & Custard. A picture-perfect pear crumble was presented with a miniature pot of vanilla custard. The pear compote was piping hot; the fruit was delicately sweet and succulent, but lacking enough flavour to make an impression. The streusel was very good, as was the runny custard. A tarter fruit would have been preferred.

St. John - Gingerloaf & Butterscotch Sauce

Dessert 4: Gingerloaf & Butterscotch Sauce. A warm ginger sponge, soused with butterscotch sauce, was served with wintergreen ice cream. The cake, surprisingly and scrumptiously moist, was covered in rich, hot butterscotch. The ice cream, contrastingly almost minty in taste, was an excellent foil. The heat of the ginger slowly melted the ice cream, mixing it with the syrup. Very satisfying.

St. John - Apple Sorbet & Polish Vodka

Dessert 5: Apple Sorbet & Polish Vodka. Scoops of apple and apple cider sorbet were supplied with a shot of Polish vodka. The two components could not necessarily be compatibly consumed and the one of us who drew the short straw simply downed the shot. The sorbet itself was smooth, cold and clear.

Food-wise, St. John continued where it left off for me: some dishes were pleasant; some were plain; with palatability picking up with puddings. The high spots from the savouries included the always-agreeable roast marrow, smoked eel and ox tongue; from the sweets, the gingerloaf and butterscotch was the best. The cooking was well done and quite constantly so, but some of the ingredients, especially the meats, had less flavour than I would have expected or liked; my recurring complaint with this restaurant. I also found the repetitive use of beetroot, horseradish and watercress bordering on wearisome. The fact that I like these ingredients saved St. John my being cross.

St. John 2

I quite like the canteen feel of the place. The clatter of cutlery and clang of crockery; the clamour from the open kitchen; and the egalitarian bench seating system all come together to create an enjoyable, unassuming dining experience. We even ended up getting on rather well with a very friendly neighbouring table.

I have doubted (like Thomas) St John’s ranking as one of the world’s top tables before and that question still stands. The food had none of us on bended knee, kissing houndstooth hems – I certainly remained perpendicular (or on my bottom) the whole time – but I can see the attraction.

With regards to the refurbishment, to be honest, everything looked pretty much as I remembered it. Maybe a new floor has been installed…

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St. John, London

St. John, London

St. John

I must be spending far too much time in Chowhound chat rooms; a post from the esteemed Hermano Primero, of Dos Hermanos. kindly informing Chowhounds that St. John would be closing from late June until late August for “a much needed programme of refurbishment and maintenance” was all it took for me to immediately book a table for ‘final week’.

 

A visit to St. John, only a marrow bone’s throw from my office, was already long overdue. As one of London’s most critically acclaimed restaurants – it was the biggest British winner in this year’s San Pellegrino ‘World’s 50 Best’ list, rising 18 places to 16th (even above my beloved l’Arpège) and named the ‘must visit’  restaurant of 2008 – it is a destination de rigueur on many foodies’ London itineraries.

The restaurant is iconic to say the least. Since self-trained Fergus Henderson opened SJ in 1994, it has spawned a cult following. The world famous home of ‘nose-to-tail eating’ has a fan base that includes the full spectrum of eaters – chefs/foodies/professional critics – all of whom lovingly make the pilgrimage to Smithfield to sample the simple, classic ‘British’ cooking on offer. Indeed, there are now a host of eateries that follow the gospel of St. John; Hereford Road, Rochelle Canteen, Great Queen St, Anchor & Hope…

In post-mad-cow Britain, where eating red meat is almost stigmatised and offal almost taboo, SJ is a leading proponent of the foodolution (food revolution) against against eating meat. Indeed some of its attraction certainly rests in the coolness factor attached to being unconventional, to being a rebel and also the minor mischief in eating such unmentionable cuts as heart, brains, fries etc; all of which have helped make SJ the fashionable institution it is.

The restaurant is located, rather fittingly, in what appears to have previously been a butchers or warehouse (actually it was a bacon smokehouse) adjacent to London’s most famous meat market, Smithfield. The interior has been striped to its bare bones to reveal an ‘abattoir-chic’ minimalism; 30ft high whitewashed walls enclose today’s stainless steel bar; exposed corrugated iron staircases crisscross from floor to ceiling; wooden tables and chairs bedeck the floor. One may assume it a clinical, sterile environment, but far from it. Yes it is clean, simple and precise, but also it is honest, open and fresh. This impression is no doubt fostered by the cosy, welcoming aroma of just-made bread which, emanating from the in-house bakery found in one corner, envelops and warms the whole room. In a former life, Fergus Henderson trained and worked as an architect; no wonder then that so much emphasis has been placed on the restaurant’s setting, creating what is a genuine architectural space.

St. John - Dining Room 1

Once at St. John, I was ushered into the dining room where, expecting to find food for eating, I was first to find food for further thought. ‘Victorian refectory’ sprang instantly to mind: again whitewashed walls; long rows of uncomfortable wooden tables and chairs; battleship grey parquet. The focal point is the open kitchen, which allows customers just a peek inside. I half-expected, fully-would-have-loved-it to see an Oliver Twist cast of little street urchins flood in and take their rightful places along these rows, but of course, nothing as lovely and as fantastic as that could ever have happened to me.

St. John - Dining Room 2

There is a complete absence of adornment about the room and no ostentation. In their place is a charming austerity. The intention is to focus eaters’ minds on what they are eating. Henderson wants no distractions; even asserting admirably, ”you come here to eat, not to pose.”

St. John - Menu

This dogma of simplicity and focus pervades every detail, from the white smocks worn by the staff (homage to the market porters at Smithfield) to the lack of background music and even the terse dish appellations on the menu (above). Even the food must abide by these same commandments; what you read is what you get. Peas in the Pod is literally a portion of garden peas, albeit fresh and sweet ones, served in a bowl, which you must pod yourself. The preparation of the food, the ingredients, even the presentation is utilitarian.

The waitress who took my order was delightfully charming and patient. She answered amiably my constant questions (you too will have questions given such limited descriptions) and was eager to help accommodate my eating wishes. Under her guidance, I ordered a selection that allowed me to sample both some traditional dishes as well as some more adventurous ones. Unfortunately however, there was nothing especially ‘out there’ that day.

After taking my order, the bread basket was brought and a new love born. This bread was superb; light, fluffy, crusty and wholesome. It tasted great and would prove ideal for soaking up all the juices from off my plates. It is the best bread I have had in some time…

St. John - Squid & Tomato

The first starter, Squid & Tomato, was a generous serving of gently braised squid, cherry tomatoes, parsley and onions, splashed with lemon juice and topped with a dollop of butter. The lovely tomato and lemon aroma and green, red, zinnwaldite and yellow colours evoked memories of the Mediterranean, with the parsley in particular whisking me back to sunny Cyprus, where I have spent many summers and where this herb is an almost ubiquitous meal additive. The braised squid had an unusual texture, rather more tender than expected and not at all chewy. Some of the squid’s cooking juices had been added to the butter, giving it a gentle and felicitous spiciness. The obviously fresh ingredients, each bursting with their individual flavours – sweet, sour, bitter and acidic – were in harmony, neither one overpowering the others; it was a pleasant and delicate mix.

St. John - Roast Bone Marrow & Parsley Salad

The dish that one must try at St. John is Henderson’s signature Roast Bone Marrow & Parsley Salad – actually, it is the only item that can be a must-order as it is the only one always on the ever-changing menu. As I awaited its arrival, warm childhood memories came flooding back to me; my grandmother would often serve me the leftover bones she had used to flavour broths and soups. I would take these bones with both hands, ripping and tearing at the few remaining thews with my teeth – a generally almost fruitless endeavour, but worryingly addictive. I would always leave the best bit till last; sucking the marrow out. Those measly (lamb) bones only ever yielded just enough yummy fat to deliver the hint of a taste, but it was worth it.

Four roasted bones, shaped like mini Gaudi apartment buildings, were served oven-hot with a garden-fresh salad of parsley, capers and shallots and two crusty slices of St. John’s trademark toasted sourdough. The waiter provided me with a long lobster fork-like implement, necessary for the successful extraction of precious marrow, and spooned a large helping of French sel gris onto my plate. After seducing my sense of sight, the dish subdued my sense of smell with its rich, roasted, meaty aroma. I eagerly began attacking each little burning-hot volcano, piercing the soft mouth, diligently working my fork around its core, urging every last drop of that luscious lava out onto the toast. Garnishing the marrow-on-toast with some of that refreshing salad and a generous sprinkling of those large powerful salt grains, it was ready, I was ready. Wow! An unforgettable memory was created there and then. Gooey, oozing, fatty marrow, fresh bitter parsley, sweet shallots, zesty capers, a hint of lemon, sharp salty smack, crunchy bread; all these simple, intense, gorgeous flavours whirled around in my mouth. It was blissful. I was happy.

St. John - Roast Bone Marrow & Parsley Salad 2

I refused to relinquish my plate until I had desperately dug out every last drop of gungy goodness from those wicked little vessels, finally using the delicious bread to mop up any (greasy, oily) salty, lemon-sour juices. I savoured the deep, sinful and yet comforting flavours. This was a great dish, simplicity and perfection combined; it was simply perfect.

St. John - Calves’ Liver & Onions

The next dish to come out was the Calves’ Liver & Onions, today’s special and my waitress’ personal favourite. A decent serving of rare pan-fried liver came with onions fried to within moments of evaporation, swimming in sherry vinegar. The pungent odours of the dish, of sweetness and succulence, filled my nostrils. I cut into the liver and discovered the sticky exterior concealed a pleasingly bloody, molten, milky centre. The onions, a comme il faut Eve to the liver’s Adam, were a little too mushy for my taste; considering the already soft texture of the meat, maybe less limp onions could have provided a pleasing crunch. The sweet-sour sherry vinegar complemented the dish well.

St. John - Ox Heart, Carrots & Horseradish

Ox Heart, Carrots & Horseradish followed. Thin slices of heart were served with braised, caramelised carrots and a tablespoon of horseradish. The meat, rare again, was delicate and tender. One might have expected a more imposing taste and special texture from this beast, but it actually turned out to be quite gentle and mild-mannered. That said, the meat did have a very familiar, very specific taste that though I have tried desperately to since, I just cannot place. Nevertheless, it was pleasant if not exciting. The sticky, shiny carrots were nice, with juicy amber pulp encased securely in a rusty burnt orange straightjacket of skin. The freshly prepared horseradish, impotent on first taste, delivered a classically-delayed, sorely-needed slap to rouse the ox.

St. John - Devilled Kidneys on Toast

Then came the Devilled Kidneys on Toast. This Victorian delicacy was by some margin the pick of the three main dishes. The velvety kidneys, strewn on crunchy sourdough toast, were submerged in the most intoxicating of sauces. The simple blend of cayenne, mustard and Worcestershire sauce packed a potent, spicy, sweet and above all, delicious punch and each bite brought tears to my eyes (well, actually it wasn’t good enough or hot enough to do that, but the metaphor is worth the hyperbole). Then again, it is said (well, said by Belgians at least) that well prepared kidneys are comparable to luxurious foie gras.

St. John - Welsh Rarebit

Whilst working diligently though these plates, a side order of Welsh Rarebit was duly delivered. It was indeed unnecessary when considered from a (boring) utilitarian viewpoint, but I was wearing my hedonist hat that day and rarebit is one of those items I always want to order (hot bread, melted cheese; who would not?), but I just never do. The mammoth size of this specimen actually shocked me a little, but in a pleasing, someone-has-just-come-up-behind-you-and-jabbed-you-in-the side sort of way. A rusted layer of molten cheese magma that struggled to stay atop the thick slice of toast was flavoured with Worcestershire sauce, beer, cayenne and mustard. However, as glorious as it looked, the taste was surprisingly mild, too mild for my liking. Considering the dynamite-like components, I expected/craved a flavour explosion, but instead landed a dud; making £5.00 a rather dear sum to pay for good old cheese-on-toast.

St. John - Eccles Cake & Lancashire Cheese

The first pudding to arrive was the St. John classic, Eccles Cake & Lancashire Cheese. This is a good example of what an easy target I am. Though I do like cheese, I almost always ask to substitute the cheese course for an extra dessert and I also (nearly) hate raisons, sultanas, currants, etc (except for green raisons…do not ask me why). Yet, fully self-conscious of my own predilections, I still ordered this. To be honest, it was decent, but nothing great. The cheese was good, lush, soft and mellow, it was a perfect foil for the swarm of super intense, contemptible currants that disgorged themselves from the sweet and crunchy Eccles cake with its icing-covered shell.

St. John - Raspberry & Lemon Posset

The second pudding was an inspired choice: Raspberry & Lemon Posset. Lovely – that sums it up rather well. A lemon juice infused mixture of cream, sugar and possibly egg was zesty yet sweet, dense yet smooth. Upon breaching the sand coloured surface with my shovel/spoon, I was able to dig out a precious treasure of raspberry pearls. Sour lemon. Sweet raspberry. Great match. The posset alone would have sufficed, but served alongside were two perfect shortbreads, each so delicate, each ready to crumble and submit their buttery, biscuity goodness the moment they were in my mouth and mine. The contrasting consistencies of silk and grain between the cream and cookies went very well.

All in all, I enjoyed my St. John experience very much. The service was good; my initial waitress was excellent, but as the restaurant filled, she was replaced by another waiter who, though friendly and helpful too, was just not as endearing. The kitchen was also kind enough to let me have some main courses as half-portions, something which I was told the chef normally never does. The food definitely had its moments. The culinary highs (bread, marrow bones, kidneys, posset) were very high, but the lows (ox heart, liver, Eccles cake) were rather bland/disappointing/just not to my taste. In terms of value, I would admit starters were good value, as were puddings, but the mains, though not blatantly expensive, were a little overpriced for what you received.

I am a big fan of offal and the less common cuts of meat: I always steal the liver, gizzard and neck from the chicken/turkey before it’s even carved; claim fish eyes and cheeks for myself; bugsy the bunny’s head; and, when available at my butcher, roast a whole lamb’s head, which I refuse to share (not that anyone else ever wants some). St. John is one of only few places that cater for such intrepid tastes. This, plus the fact that the dishes I did like here, I liked very much and the dynamic menu, capable of genuinely exciting dishes, will definitely have me coming back for more.

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St. John (The Return), London

St. John (The Return), London

Whilst reflecting on the previous evening’s meal at St. John, embellishing on the notes I had made mid-mouthful, it came to my attention that I had not left a tip when settling the bill. I must admit, having idly inured to seeing that now-standard syntax, 12.5%-discretionary-service-charge-included, so often, when it came to paying, I literally did not give the gratuity a single thought. An honest mistake, n’est-ce pas? Well, it was a mistake that would return to haunt me that very day…

 

This aforementioned reflection had made me hungry and memories of that lovely posset in particular stoked within me a pining for pudding(s). Now, I do think it a little particular to patronise the same restaurant twice in two days, but there were mitigating circumstances: I had yet to try anything truly curious or unfamiliar on the menu and St. John would be closing for the summer just two days later, making another visit impossible (for two months anyway). I had to make the most of this opportunity.

On arrival, given the same table as the night before – I was on the road to becoming a regular – I wasted no time analysing the menu. The pudding list, which was where my attention first focussed itself (please note the passive tense here), was indeed enticing, but alas, once again the rest of the menu disappointed: no sign of lambs’ fry, squirrel, not even that Langoustines & Mayonnaise starter I had read of just about everywhere. I had to reconcile myself with rabbit.

A waiter approached. It was, of course, the very same gentleman that served me last night; as if it could have ever really have been anyone else. Now, not that I was expecting/looking forward to a hug or a bout of cheek-kissing, but I do think a friendly welcome should be de rigueur. He acknowledged me (just about). I greeted him with a joke. He (grudgingly) admitted remembering me. He demanded my order. ‘Any specials today?’ I asked hopefully/gingerly. ‘None.’ Of course not, I said to myself. ‘What do your recommend?’ ‘Everything is good.’ Oh boy, this is going to be fun. ‘How is the Squid, Fennel & Green Sauce prepared?’ (I am a glutton for punishment). ‘With a Salsa Verde.’ ‘And the Cured Beef & Celeriac?’ ‘It comes cold.’ OK, enough of this, I thought, it was becoming irksome; he had spurned the chance to milk my appetite. ‘The rabbit please…and for pudding, Gooseberry Crumble & Custard, Chocolate Terrine & Crème Fraiche and half a dozen madeleines. I do love your puddings. That posset you recommended last night was excellent, thank you.’ What’s wrong with you? I sighed to myself.

St. John - Rabbit Saddle & Dandelion Salad

Rabbit Saddle & Dandelion Salad was today’s incarnation of one of my favourite meats. It certainly sounded enjoyable, but when it arrived, I quickly became dissatisfied: what appeared a decent cut of meat was on closer inspection a rather pathetic portion. The only flesh left for me to devour on the little beast consisted of two skinny shards either side of the backbone. Though served rare, with blood still visible closer to the bone, the rabbit’s certain lifelessness was evident by its total blandness. As if out of spite, the meat having already been stolen, what was left had been bled bone-dry of all the rabbit’s natural gamey richness. The salad of capers, radish and dandelion was, on the other hand, full of sour and bitter tangs. These converged in a last-bid attempt to revive the dull little bunny…but failed. The tender flesh did at least play nicely with the crisp roots and at least I did get to try dandelion for the first time. It tasted like chicory.

Unfortunately, over the course of my meal the attitude of the waiter did not improve. There was no pleasant banter. Dishes were brought and taken away unceremoniously. The bread was never replaced voluntary nor was the butter; if I wanted more, I had to ask for it. Then, when it was finally brought, instead of removing the empty bread basket from the table, the new one was indelicately plopped on top of the old; it was the same with the butter plates. Luckily for me, after my main course, a different waitress took over. She was sweet and friendly and for the first time that night, I received a smile.

Finally, it was time for the real (secret) reason behind my return: the puddings. Desserts are pretty, delicate objets d’art, usually better on the eye than in the bouche, but puddings, however, are real pleasures. The word itself conjures up, for me anyway, memories of cold winter days, curled up on the coach, wrapped in a warm blanket spoiling myself with a rich, naughty treat (I think I’m treading a rather fine line here). Though not always attractive, not at all fancy nor pristine in preparation, they are gorgeous and luxurious nonetheless. At St. John, the retro-comfort puddings take the biscuit. I ordered three, well, two and a half dozen madeleines.

 

 

They arrived more or less together, allowing me to enjoy mixing and matching mouthfuls of each…mmmm! The madeleines (top left) were brought first and brought the warm, comfy, happy aroma of baking with them. On tasting, the slightly crisp delicate coat yielded a fluffy centre, all of which dissolved instantly in the mouth. Then came the Gooseberry Crumble & Custard (bottom left). I rather like the humble old gooseberry; it is like rhubarb in use and tartness, just less cool. The white porcelain bowl could barely hold back its gushing, eager contents: the golden crust struggling to conceal the wealth bubbling beneath. The gooseberry filling had a satisfying balance of sweet and sharp. Broken almond pieces studied the firm crumble enjoyably enhancing the crunchiness of each bite. The accompanying custard was excellent; slightly runny, not too sweet and lukewarm, it tempered the thick, sugary, burning hot pud. A hint of vanilla was a nice addition. Finally, the Chocolate Terrine & Crème Fraiche arrived (bottom right). The presentation was austere: a clean thick brick of dark chocolate and one spoon of milk white crème fraiche. The taste was decadent: the chocolate, deeply dark in flavour, had a playfully defiant consistency making each indulgent spoonful a game of push-and-pull. Having to fight for it only made it better. This is what a chocolate dessert ought to be. On the other hand, the crème fraiche, there to tame the chocolate’s intensity, proved superfluous and pathetic in its pacification.

I would certainly return to St. John once it reopens: hopefully in not too long, but just long enough for that waiter to forget my face. As much as I enjoyed the marrow bones, loved the bread and adored the puddings, I felt short-changed by the mains. Having tried four in all, only the devilled kidneys were a hit. The petty attitude of the waiter disappointed too. After all, a tip is not an obligation, it is a reward; as far as I am concerned, you get paid a wage to do your job and a tip for going above and beyond that. However, in good Christian fashion I will forgive him. I just pray this disciple of St. John will forgive me…

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Splendid St. John and St. John Bread and Wine

Splendid St. John and St. John Bread and Wine

Tim? I’m not sure whether you’re still reading my blog from from time to time, but I’d like to thank you for mentioning your favourite restaurant in London: St. John. It was the first time I ever heard about the place, and since that day I’ve wanted to try it at the first chance I got.

The view from my table

I think it was about two weeks before going to London that I reserved my table. I was lucky that I needed a late booking, because it wasn’t easy to get a seat for dinner.

Really, I cannot keep this in the dark any longer: I loved St. John. I was in London for four days and had my dinner there the first night in town and wanted to return immediately the following evening. I’d like to describe why I think St. John is such a great place, and why the same goes for the sister restaurant St. John Bread and Wine.

Inside the St. John Restaurant

The white look of St. John’s website very much reflects the way the restaurant is designed. Very white, and with white table cloths on the tables. The chairs are brown and all of the same (great) design, black lamps are coming down from the ceiling like shower heads and giving an industrial feeling to it, a bit like an old fashioned train station with a white painted iron roof with detailed curves high above the tracks. The inside of St. John is all very simple and discrete, but in a rough way. A row of white coat-hooks is the only decoration on the white walls. The waiters are wearing white jackets. I adore white.

What immediately struck me, when I entered the restaurant was how the interior appeared balanced, plain and inviting, perhaps invoked by the wonderful smell, which tickled my choanae with freshly baked bread from the open kitchen. I observed the people seated side by side all around the place full of a busy sound of murmuring. Good friends eating out and enjoying the food and wine, themselves and their company. It comforted me, and made me feel safe and welcome.

The hostess seated me at a small table right behind the front desk by the entrance, and I was handed the white paper slip menu. All the dishes sounded tempting and delicious and made me stare at the offerings completely disillusioned. It was very hard to make a choice.

Oysters

Native Oysters

While musing on the menu I ordered a glass of Blanc de Blancs 1er Cru champagne, which turned out to be very nice; sour at first with slightly hard bubbles, a good and full taste and a lovely bitter finish. I also got some delectable native oysters served classically with scalottes vinaigrette. Wow, I’ve become fond of oysters lately, and I’m not sure why. The first few times I tasted them, I thought they were all sea water and jelly, and couldn’t see the point. I was so mystified by the fact that many people are crazy about them, and I thus went on slurping to try and find out what it is that attracts people so much. The survey has now resulted in my own falling in love, too, but I’m still incapable of telling you why it is so. It’s just exotic to eat oysters, I suppose. And with champagne it’s superbly decadent.

These oysters were all very good, meaty and full in taste. When I added a bit of the red and strong flavoured vinaigrette, the oyster taste became more distinct. The champagne and the oyster flavours were a lovely couple.

The Wallard

Mallard and Sweet Potatoes

Green Sprouts

Sprout Tops

I settled for the mallard as the main course with the sprout tops recommended by the sweet guy waiting my table the whole evening.

The mallard was cooked perfectly, very rare and a drop from being raw. The seeping blood indicated the moistness of the poultry. The meat was very tender and the taste was great; exactly the right choice for my starving appetite saved all day for this dinner. I also enjoyed the sweetness of the potatoes.

The green sprout leaves were buttery with bitter notes on the balanced and rich taste. They were still crispy and seemed fresh, cooked and prepared just before serving.

St. John offers a good handful of wines by the glass. Having recently been very content drinking Charteneuf du Pape with mallard, I ordered a glass of Vincent Paris, Cornas, ‘Granit 30′ from the Northern Rhone (think it was a 2004). The flavour of it was that of a young wine, it comprised fruit but less than expected, good tannins and a lot of acidity. Actually too much acidity, which made it not the best match with the game taste of the bird. I had definitely expected more from that wine.

The food tasted so good, and even though the piece of duck breast was rather big, my craving wasn’t satisfied until both plates were clean. This is the proof:

Left overs

Clean Plate

I had I insisted on having room for a dessert and was keen on trying one of St. John’s specialities.

Eccles Cake and Lancashire Cheese

Eccles Cake & Lancashire Cheese

I liked the combination of both a sweet and cheese at the same time. The Lancashire was a bit friable in texture and mild and salty in taste. The small cake was covered with a hard sugar shield, and when braking it, tiny dried raisins teemed out, otherwise the cake was hollow. The bottom was caramelised and gave sweetness to it and a sense of Christmas, for some reason.

The inviting look and simplicity of St. John, the kind hostess, the sweet waiter and the very good food all in all formed a very enjoyable night out on my own. The restaurant was full that evening, so the staff worked hard and effectively but still providing enough and very knowledgeable attention to a sole diner.

Like I said, I wanted to return again as soon as possible, but St. John was completely booked the following nights. Instead the kind waiter suggested St. John Bread and Wine, in Spitalfields, and made the phone call to make me a reservation. Just like that, and I could walk back to my hotel and go happily to bed.

St. John Bread and Wine

St. John Bread and Wine

Just briefly about the more casual version St. John Bread and Wine on Commercial Street near Spitalfields Market. I dined there three days later, a Friday evening and the last day of November 2007.

The restaurant was crowded and full of jolly people and somewhat noisier than St. John. I shot this video clip to get you an idea of it.

[googlevideo=http://video.google.co.uk/videoplay?docid=-5778714649648923968&hl=en-GB]

Different from St. John the tables are bare, and probably it doesn’t reduce the noise of a fully booked restaurant.

The menu offers a lot of lovely sounding dishes and most of them cost between £5 and £11 each. I wasn’t sure about the size of these portions, so I ordered three different dishes.

Jerusalem Artichoke and Watercress

Jerusalem artichokes, red onions and watercress

The food was outstanding. I also got those lovely firm green olives that apparently are commonly used in London eateries.

The Jerusalem artichokes course was a very well balanced dish. The rich flavour of the tender but firm Jerusalem artichokes was kicked by the sweetness of the red onions and the fresh, lightly crispy and bitter cress leaves. Very nice and generous.

Foie Gras

Duck Liver & Foie Gras Toast

You know it’s funny, but the food at B&W actually appeared a bit more sophisticated to me, more elegant but still simple. The bread was fantastic and for the pate, the slices had been gilled, which added more taste to the bread and to the experience of the whole dish.

Cauliflower Soup

Cauliflower Soup

I was warned about the heaviness of the soup and on purpose, I must say. The taste was delicious with a mild cauliflower tone, a good thick texture, the way I like. Very hearty, and yes I couldn’t finish it. This soup proved that St. John and his sister are sincere about the food, and how the meal is enjoyed. Please note that there was no decoration of a parsley leaf or whatever swimming around on the soup, and which you would fence around with the spoon to avoid. Or if unluckily eating would appear too spicy and chewy and ruin the whole soup experience. No, the soup was perfect as it was, which was being stressed by this simplicity. That’s one of the things that makes me love St. John and the entire concept. No bullshit. Only very good food.

I asked for some wine to go well with the foie gras toast and accepted the suggestion of a Muscat. The waiter brought me the filled glass and i didn’t get to see the bottle, so I don’t recall any facts about it. It was very perfumed in the nose and palate and yet light with a delicate fruit. I liked it, but it wasn’t the most interesting wine, a bit too average with no real character.

The Kitchen

When I was sitting there enjoying my food and the buzz of the place, I was suddenly interrupted by a spectacle plate coming out from the open kitchen carried high up by a waiter. A whole roasted suckling pig. How about that!? I so much wanted to take a few photos of it, as I’ve never seen anything like that before, but the table with the people enjoying it was far from mine, and I was to shy to ask for permission to immortalize it. A nice roast smell tailed the giant plate. What a show.

Madeleines

Madeleines

With my Illy espresso, a favourite, I just had to try the madeleines and waited the 15-20 minutes it takes to bake them upon request. Ever since I first (not too long ago) heard about Marcel Proust‘s instance of involuntary memory and the episode of the madeleine, I have wondered what they are like. That night at St. John B&W they arrived hot from the oven and were so lovely with a tender and very slightly moist middle. I got my leftovers with me in a brown St. John paper bag and guzzled them for breakfast the next morning. Now, I know what madeleines smell and taste like, so perhaps one day the sweet buttery and lemon-ish scent will send me and my memory right back to the restaurant of St. John W&B.

Sitting there my last night in London, I just wished that the good fellows Fergus and Trevor would export their splendid eateries to Copenhagen, because I knew I would be missing this great food and atmosphere. You know, I really do. I’ll return to St. John and St. John Bread and Wine every time I’m in London, that’s for sure!

So, Tim. Now I wonder what other favourite restaurants you might have??

VeryGoodFood.dk - Trine

 

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