St John

Saturday, 5 July 2014

London has fought many battles to get itself on the culinary map. With a cuisine built on stodgy suppers (with good reason, mind you as it's perpetually FREEZING) and the classic meat and three veg, there's not too much room for development. Enter, Fergus Henderson and his St John branded empire. A man who practically invented nose-to-tail eating and elevating offal to fine dining; for twenty years he has been redefining British cuisine for the discerning diner.

This utilitarian all-white restaurant runs like a well oiled machine, honed over the past two decades Credit: St John Group

Flush on the doorstep of Smithfield market, the original St John Bar and Restaurant stands as a bit of an icon in the area, having been operating since 1994 (positively eons by today's standards). Two years ago, I went away from St John absolutely beaming. Not only was the food exciting but it also shone a light on much neglected ingredients. The magic obviously worked on me because I left telling everyone, "You have to go, it's the best!" Today's little revisit was to reaffirm my beliefs about the place because when done right, offal can actually taste really, really good. Be adventurous and give it a go!

The unmistakeable no. 26 St. John Street, like a charismatic old friend

St John is certainly a modest space, based in a former smokehouse. The beauty of it is that there is something there for everyone, at the ground level is a casual bar space with beers on tap and some ripping bar snacks (crispy pigs ears anybody?) but the upstairs mezzanine is where the action's at (the formal dining room). A zen oasis decked in white-on-white. The reputation of this restaurant isn't for nothing, the service is efficient with professional, knowledgeable staff. 

Welsh rarebit with Worcestershire sauce. An absolute workhorse of British cuisine. This rather wholesome toasty was easily a meal on its own. Grilled to golden perfection this dish is a must

The menu is rather lengthy despite the rather minimalist descriptions like "Pigeon & Beetroot" (sounds delicious already!). You'd be a fool not to tackle a dish featuring offal or game. The old British classics are in the mix with some more left of centre dishes. It's a difficult game narrowing it down, too often my eyes are bigger than my stomach. St John also serve their house made sourdough which is the bomb (technical term) and offer a selection of their own St John vintages of wine (so sold). I tried the lovely Edelzwicker from Alsace (doesn't that sound fancy).

Crispy pig skin salad with watercress, green beans. Looking deceptively simple, this dish was full of surprises - the salty pop of capers, the textural pork and zippy dressing tying it all together. Completely delicious

The dishes come to the table in quick succession and a rather small table is jammed from corner to corner with white plates. I ended up nesting my glass of white on the windowsill (if you don't mind...).  Where the presentation leaves much to be desired it would simply make no sense to be mucking about and jazzing up offal. The flavours do ALL the talking, there's absolutely no need for bells and whistles. What you see is what you get and I respect that boldness.

Blood cake and fried eggs. This is precisely what you got! The black pud was rich and crumbly, possibly the entire year's worth of iron and protein right there

A little experiment in sweetbreads: (left) lamb sweetbreads turnip & bacon circa 2012 and (right) lamb sweetbreads, broad beans and bacon (2014). I obviously couldn't get enough and ordered the dish again. The sweetbreads have a rather unusual texture (an unexpected creaminess), but they are cooked so well. A gold standard in terms of sweetbreads!

DOLCE - a mash up of 2012/2014

Bitter chocolate crème & prunes (left) and lemon sorbet & vodka (right). This pair of rather adult desserts from 2012 were absolute dynamite (and not just from the post-shot burny feeling)
It doesn't get much more old skool than this: eccles cake and Lancaster cheese circa '12

The New Guard, 2014: baked cheesecake with rum-soaked raisins (gosh, they were ALCOHOLIC) and rhubarb sorbet & vodka (gosh that was ALCOHOLIC). The cheesecake was utterly moorish, I wasn't missing a biscuity base at all. The sorbet was more of boozy slushie in the end = AMAZING

At St John you'll find nose-to-tail eating at its best and most original. Fergus Henderson's St John brand is a sure fire winner and comforting at any time of year. Twenty years later with a Michelin star in tow, it is still in fine form and highly recommended to one and all. If you can't find the time to dine in or can't get a table (likely), be sure to duck over to the bakery and purchase some of that amazing sourdough for home (they sell halves as well which is rather nifty). Totally worth the trip, and the food baby.

Right before it got really busy. This photograph was really pushing the limits of my point-and-shoot camera but hey, it worked!

Thanks for reading this rather epic edition!
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