St John – ‘An All Time Favourite….’
My favourite restaurants are often more than just restaurants to me. Yeah, they’re places to go and eat bloody good food, drink equally wonderful wine, with faultless service, whilst having a jolly good time. But, my go to eateries offer just that little bit more which is why they drag me back time after time. These restaurants appear fearless. Blatantly ignoring trends and current fads and sticking to what they’ve done for years. Just the odd tweak here and there, to a tried and trusted methodology, keeps the restaurant fresh, without changing its principles and beliefs. A simple technique many could learn from. This pretty much sums up my favourite London restaurant, St John.
I first made my acquaintance with St. John several years ago. As the foodie I am, some notable comments made me sit up and listen and question why I had never been. The late, great and most iconic foodie on the planet, Anthony Bourdain, commented ‘St John is my favourite restaurant in the World’. Whoa, now that’s one hell of a statement. Bourdain is the godfather, the granddaddy and a foodie inspiration, who’s death last year shocked me unlike any other celebratory demise. Basically, when Bourdain speaks, the foodie world listens. From the moment I heard this now historic comment, St John was firmly on the bucket list.
As I mentioned at the beginning, restaurants such as these offer much more. St John’s series of books are like nothing else. These culinary masterpieces will stand the test of time in gourmet literacy, to be held in high regard for many years to come. In my view, they are up there with such classics as French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David or The Guide to Modern Cookery by Esoffier! St. John is all about English food history. They’re recreating old English dishes we haven’t seen before, and ones which have been lost in time. Get your self a copy of their acclaimed ‘Complete Nose to Tail’ and you can try your hand at knocking up such delights as ‘Pigs Head and Potato Pie’ or ‘Grilled & Marinated Calf’s Heart’.
What about the man himself, he who started this London institution? ITS FERGUS! Fergus Henderson is a genius and the brains behind St John. Eccentric bordering crazy, Fergus just does what Fergus does. He doesn’t seem to care about modern gastronomy trends, nor complex plating. Nah, you’ll never find fancy foams, jus, velouté’s or deconstructed dishes cluttering up the menu. He just puts good food on to a plate. What more does it need? Good ingredients and flavour that’s it. Mark my words, when Fergus ascends to the restaurant in the sky, they’ll be a statue erected in his honour. He’ll be forever immortalised at Smithfield’s and rightly so.
Not only is St John now a regular on the world’s top 100 restaurants list, they’ve held a Michelin star for 10 years. Yep, they’ve been awarded the most coveted accolade in gastronomy. I can say this with some certainty, Fergus didn’t start out aiming for the stars. There’re restaurateurs out there who’s only intention is for their eatery to be listed in that little red book. It becomes an obsession. Not for St John. Their obsession is out and out flavour, nothing more. Their star just came naturally. I mean, how many Michelin starred restaurants would have the bare faced cheek to serve up kidneys on toast as a main course? They do at St John, and one I sampled just a few weeks ago. Plump kidneys, devilled, and served on toasted sour dough. Typically, St John and naturally tasty.
Then there’s the bar; jeez the bar!! Not only are they serving up superb wine and excellent craft beer, here you can get stuck in to all manner of St. John’s signature dishes, such as roasted bone marrow. Order this epic dish and you’ll be presented with three roasted marrow bones, toast and a little sea salt. Spoon out the marrow, spread on the toast, sprinkle a little sea salt then take a large bite. Take it from me no visit to St John is complete without Bone Marrow. Oh, and the rarebit! If you’re ever hankering after a good bit of cheese on toast, get your ass down to St John and order up the rarebit; Comfort food at its best.
You may think this food sounds a little too simple? I often waffle on about simplicity, but cheese on toast I hear you cry! Should a Michelin starred restaurant be serving up more complex dishes? In my view no, but sit in the main dining room and you can order more elaborate creations such as, ‘Kid Chop with White Beans & Anchovy’ or ‘Grilled Onglet with Carrots & Aioli’. But I can guarantee you, these will be served up in the classic no nonsense St John manner. They follow seasonality to the book. Looking for your first grouse of the season? You’ll find it at St John. Lou and I visited earlier this year and we ate wild Mallard. Simply roasted with swede and pickled walnut, this game bird was served whole and as rare as you’d dare; amazing!
Whilst writing this, I’m sitting on the train. Lou and I have the week off work, and we are heading to St John. What are we planning to eat? An egg sandwich! Sounds a little odd I know but let me explain. Every Friday after work I nip in to St John and pick up our bread for the weekend. I didn’t mention St John are master bakers too! Every time I pick up our weekly sour dough, it’s there on the bar menu, an ‘egg sandwich’. Lou and I are huge fans of the humble egg mayo sarnie. I guess it kinda sums up St John to a degree, simple, but oh so delicious and one which I never tire of. Whenever I see that egg sandwich on the St John menu, I just know it will be something quite special. I’ve been longing to try this for months. So, the highlight of our week off is gonna be an egg sandwich! Strange, but I know this won’t disappoint, after all its St John. Who knows I may even write a full 1200 word review on an egg sanga; now there’s a thought, so watch this space!
If you call your self a foodie and have never been to St John, wake up! The menu can often be a little daunting when your faced with dishes such as ‘Snails with Oakleaf’ or ‘Middlewhite Tongues’. It’s not all mysterious lesser cuts, but if you do fancy getting involved then you could do far worse than chowing down on Rabbits Gizzards in St John (yes, I’ve had those too!). I hope, like me, you’ll appreciate its unique way of seemingly sticking two fingers up at the norm and you’ll fall head over heels in love with its eccentricity. But above all else, it’s their love of all things seasonal and flavourful which draws me back time and time again. To summarise? St John never disappoints, end of.
St John can be found at 26 St John Street EC1M 4AY, or why not try their Shoreditch outpost at 94-96 Commercial Street E1 6LZ. Or just check out https://stjohnrestaurant.com/
To read all of Rich's previous mouth watering reviews please click here