I had been looking forward to going for awhile now and I was delighted when on the 25th of August, I was able to get a booking here for lunch with my wife. In case you have been hiding in a cave for the last year or so, St John Restaurant located near London’s Smithfield meat market where the head chef, Fergus Henderson has been plying his own version of traditional British food.
At the heart of his philosophy is the idea of ‘nose to tail eating’. Whilst sounding somewhat trendy and due to the popularity of the place, it therefore is kind of trendy by default is the idea that if an animal has sacrificed its life for your gustatory pleasure, you are obliged to honour its life may making use of every part of its body. This of course is not a new idea. Anyone from a rural (especially in continental Europe) background will have stories to tell about a pig slaughter and how the blood, guts, skin, organs, meat and bones of the animal will all find some use in the kitchen or household. However during this day and age, this approach is somewhat refreshing at a time when the majority of ‘haute cuisine’ is flown in from abroad and poked, prodded, gelled, foamed etc with space age machines onto space age plates. This food is how we all use to eat and the general feeling of coming here despite its ‘blood and guts’ reputation is one of respect and love for all the ingredients that are used and the warm and fuzzy feeling of ‘coming home’.
The décor could be described as somewhat clinical with a creamy, white interior and simple lights hanging from the ceiling but it does mean there is plenty of natural light without being overpowering. The service was impeccable with a lady by the name of Charlotte who guided us through our meal and brought us out of our shells and made us comfortable with the menu. I have to confess, I have never really been and offal eater but as a man with a conscience and as the Managing Director of a meat factory, I felt obliged to overcome my prejudices and dig in. In todays world, eating meat is seen as bad. Not only is it supposed to be bad for your health as a cause of heart disease, high blood pressure, bowel cancer etc but bad for the environment with all the water that is supposedly needed to make the feed to grow the meat. After all this, where else can you go and actually stand up for eating meat and not feel guilty about it. For me, this was a fitting way to express my love of meat, by visiting the holy high temple of meat eating.
For our first visit to this place, we decided to go for the signature dishes, so I went for the Rolled Pig’s Spleen & Bacon, whilst my wife went for the Roast Bone Marrow & Parsley Salad. Following these starters, for my main, I ordered the Ox Heart, Beetroot & Horseradish, whilst my wife went for the Rabbit, Bacon and Mustard. As we had a long day planned ahead of us, we stuck to water although a perfectly acceptable wine menu was provided.
Initially, I was wary of the pig spleen but can assure you that if you are happy to eat pate on toast, you will be happy with this. The spleen has a somewhat ‘livery’ taste and rolled with the bacon, you get the beautiful sweet and salty flavours of the bacon with the rich and distinctive taste of spleen. This is served with cornchions and red wine vinegar which provide a perfect sweet and sour counterpoint to the salt and rich flavours from the spleen and bacon.
Rolled Pig’s Spleen & Bacon
My wifes bone marrow was ‘richness on a plate’. The idea is that you poke out the marrow with a long ‘lobster fork’ and spread the marrow on the toast provided. The feeling could be best described to those familiar as lard on toast or possibly huge amount of butter on toast. The mouthfeel of this stuff is incredibly rich and lingering. If you are not careful, it dribbles down your chin and its flavour is somewhat fatty and also like roasted meat, owing to the fact that the bones are roasted. Again, the salad provides to perfect sour counterpoint against the richness of the marrow.
Roast Bone Marrow & Parsley Salad
On to our mains and the Ox-heart was something I was really looking forward to trying. Sliced thinly and quickly seared, it had the taste of a perfect piece of steak. This is not really surprising when you think of it. Heart muscle and skeletal muscle (the muscles we generally associate with eating meat) are pretty similar anatomically and physiologically so I thought that at worst it should just be like any other piece of meat and right I was. With the fresh horseradish and beetroot, this was just perfect for me. I can only say that I completely loved every mouthful of this dish.
Ox Heart, Beetroot & Horseradish
My wife had psyched herself out a little bit after her bone marrow and was looking forward to her rabbit which I guess for this menu could have been seen as a little more conservative. This really seemed to be the ticket for her and what was served up was basically a simple but unctous rabbit stew served with bacon and mustard. After dipping a large portion of the bread basket into the ‘sauce’, she had completely cleaned her plate. I knew she was very happy.
Rabbit, Bacon and Mustard
We were starting to fill up now so we decided to share one serve of pudding. With lots to choose from, we finally decided on the apple strudel. Don’t get me wrong, this was a great dessert but the pastry was not the sort of pastry that I am used to on a strudel and coming from a Hungarian background, we are very fussy about our strudel!! It was served with a lovely vanilla ice-cream and was the perfect end to our meal.
All in all, we both loved this place. It’s food is honest yet delicious and the service throughout was impeccable. And therefore St John Restaurant and the food of Fergus Henderson come highly recommended.
St John Bakery, Bar and Restaurant
26 St. John Street,
EC I M 4AY
Telephone: 020 7251 0848 Fax: 020 7251 4090
For information call 020 7251 0848 or reserve online:
Monday – Saturday
Bar: 11am – 11pm
Restaurant: 12pm – 3pm
6pm – 11pm
Closed for Lunch on Saturday and ALL day Sunday.
The Restaurant is fully air-conditioned.
St. JOHN BREAD and WINE
94-96 Commercial Street, London El 6LZ
Telephone: 020 7247 8724