GLC enjoys a meal of two halves at Archipelago

Archipelago

Archipelago

What’s a suitable word count for a food blog?

I always take a little pride in delivering what I want to say in as few words as possible, but feel with Archipelago I may face my greatest LadyLovesCake brevity challenge to date.

In my short time moonlighting as a very amateur pseudo food writer, I’ve taken a ride on the Orient Express and sat in a brand new Rolls Royce – all without leaving Zone 1 – and for this assignment I donned my beige flannels to head out on safari, in the wild savannahs of Fitzrovia.

I was set to go the whole hog. And by hog I mean…zebra.

Yes, Archipelago throws the beef/pork/lamb/chicken/fish formula out of the window. It serves zebra. And crocodile. And python. And kangaroo. (Although I realise Australasian marsupials scupper my safari analogy). And ok, yes, it does serve chicken and pork, although I imagine they source only the most dandy of hens and pigs for the job.

The Archipelago experience can easily be split into two distinct areas – the theatre and the food. One is distinctly more successful than the other. Mercifully, the winner is the cuisine.

Let’s get the former out of the way nice and quickly.

For as long as I can remember I’ve had a low tolerance to gimmickry with food. Even as a child I couldn’t be won over with a McDonald’s Happy Meal or a Kinder Egg – I’d have happily traded in the choke-hazard toys for more chips or chocolate.

Starter

Starter

Archipelago goes in for this ‘theatre’ in a big way. From pointlessly being given a password to enter the restaurant (eurgh!), to having menus so tightly rolled you need a weight at either end in order to keep it open long enough to read (euurrggh!), to being given a tiny white pellet on arrival, which with the addition of water bursts open to become a hand towel (euuurrrgggh!), to a dining room so cluttered with a hotchpotch of chintz and lit so dimly it’s as if they don’t want you to see what’s going on (euuuurrrrggggh!) – the initial experience is somewhat over-the-top and bizarre.

I can’t deny it – for the first ten minutes of my time at Archipelago I totally had my frown on (much to the annoyance of The American, with whom I was dining).

But over the next couple of hours it got better. Much better. Because once I’d mentally compartmentalised these annoyances, one thing can be said for certain – the food is really something.

As is usual, I had fully scoured the menus online before arriving and had my heart set on the python Carpaccio to start, so was disappointed to learn the snake man had not delivered (apparently it’s not easy to source – although I’m sure they could have found grass snake in the Waitrose Essential range).

Instead I plumped for the ‘Serengeti Strut’ – described on the menu as ‘crispy zebra jerky, boerewors, carrot and ginger fluid gel and biltong soil’. A large pile of lean meat was delivered, both crispy and chewy – delicious when dipped in the tangy carrot and ginger sauces with a dusting of the finely-blitzed biltong. All the flavours put together went to create a perfectly delicious and well thought out dish.

However, it was The American’s vine leaf-wrapped crocodile, with plums poached in honey and tangy picked samphire which really stood out. Deep layers of flavour burst out one-by-one – the acidity of the samphire cutting through the warmth of the honey – both happily accompanying the light and tender reptile.

Duck

Duck

Bison

Bison

Spiced confit duck leg followed for The American whilst my stomach ordered the most expensive item on the menu, a rump steak of bison, delivered wonderfully pink and served with baked potatoes pumped full of blue cheese and a small Caesar salad.

It’s worth noting at this point that ‘traditional’ meats are peppered throughout the menu, as are vegetarian dishes. Oh and bugs. They also serve bugs!

Owing to the size of the savoury dishes, dessert was a one-between-two affair – a chocolate soufflé spiked with cardamom, alongside a scoop of curry ice cream.

Dessert

Dessert

I had a full stomach and a smile on my face – pretty much the two things I hope for from any meal.

The damage was quite damaging – £160 all told (although two glasses of Champagne and a double shot of hard liquor from the slightly odd and pointless ‘what the doctor ordered’ cabinet went some way to adding to that total).

I can’t help but feel Archipelago will be a one-time experience for me. While the food felt like experiencing a wonderful Royal Shakespeare Company production, everything going on around it felt more like Chipping Sodbury Amateur Dramatics Society.

The paraphernalia is distracting and unnecessary, especially when there is someone in the kitchen who clearly knows what they’re doing.

A rapturous curtain call was due, but no standing ovation and no encore.

Many thanks to Zomato, for making this meal happen and generously subsidising part of the meal. 

Archipelago can be found at 53 Cleveland Street, London W1T 4JJ. Nearest tube is Goodge Street. 

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Filed under Eating, Experiences, Food, Gentleman loves cake, London, Restaurants, The West End

Some new London finds through Farfetch’s Discover App

Shoreditch - a part of London covered rather well by Farfetch

Shoreditch – a part of London covered rather well by Farfetch

My friends and I are at an age now where fast fashion doesn’t quite cut it anymore. We’re all at a level in our careers where we’re able to be a bit more discerning about what we buy and where we get it from rather than desperately hoping that skirt has come down from £25 to £10 in the sales. As someone who now appreciates their hemlines staying firmly sewn on and no random threads showing, I consider this quite an adult point in life (among the obvious many other adult points).

This time last year a good friend of mine introduced me to Farfetch, a website that sources its products from boutiques around the world and gives them a portal to sell their wares online without having to compete with huge companies that have the budget to throw at building a great presence on the web. We were impressed mostly with their business model, but I also admired the range of places they were featuring, the simple layout of the site and the fact that there are things in there for a range of budgets (though I will admit, much of it still slightly out of my reach). I kept it on the backburner as a website to follow and come back to when I had a bit more available in my wallet but have enjoyed watching them expand.

The boutiques they source from are mostly in Europe and North America, but they have been expanding to Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Japan and India. I’m sure we’ll also eventually see them collaborating with boutiques in the rest of Asia and Australasia at some point too.

However, that is a bit of a ramble from me. I was recently invited to review their Farfetch Discover App which they launched earlier this month.

This isn’t your usual app created by a fashion company for you to buy clothes on your mobile; it has been designed as a travel app with input from the designers and boutiques they work with along with itineraries by fashion insiders such as New Yorker Leandra, the blogging goddess behind Man Repeller and London-based menswear designer Martine Rose. This isn’t just about finding the boutiques they source their goods from, but about cool little places the travel guides don’t always tell you about. I like that in London they’ve included places to suit a variety of tastes and budgets.

Dennis Servers House

Dennis Servers House

Somewhere I had no idea existed and now want to visit~

Somewhere I had no idea existed and now want to visit~

Featured in here are some great finds – like uber chic Ace Hotel which recently opened in Shoreditch (I had breakfast there recently but forgot any form of camera including my phone so didn’t blog about it, but their pancakes with honeycomb butter were sure-fire winners), The Counter Cafe in Hackney, Claridges, The Hunterian Museum, Serpentine Gallery, Sunday Up-Market, Columbia Flower Market, Dukes Bar, Drink, Shop & Do – all places that I am a huge fan of and adore. They’ve even included Denis Servers House which is still on my London list as it’s apparently amazing. Martine Rose’s itinerary pays special attention to Brixton and I now feel the need to get down there and discover it properly.

It uses Google Maps to navigate for you and though the app’s design is simple, attention to detail isn’t spared, hence why my paragraph above barely scratches the surface of the places they’ve featured.

Brixton

Brixton

I went to look at what's around me and came out very impressed with even more to discover in the East End.

I went to look at what’s around me and came out very impressed with even more to discover in the East End.

The app covers nine cities at the moment and from what I’ve seen so far I’m quite impressed. I’d love to see them do Singapore, Mumbai, Melbourne and Hong Kong as I think city guides made by local fashion and blogging insiders living there in the tone of Farfetch would be fascinating. It has got me intrigued to go back to Paris and New York to see these cities through their eyes and keen to discover Lisbon (home of Farfetch founder Jose Neves) too.

So far so good Farfetch. This is an app that I hope keeps getting updated by city insiders – one to recommend for an upcoming city break (to any of the cities below) or just to rediscover parts of your own city.

Some awesome guides to some awesome cities. Well done Farfetch.

Some awesome guides to some awesome cities. Well done Farfetch.

This post was brought to you by Farfetch – however, all opinions on this are my own and I only collaborate with brands I love and respect. The Farfetch Discover App is free to download on iTunes. 

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GLC takes afternoon tea and sinks a cocktail or two at the Strand Dining Rooms

Strand Dining Rooms

Strand Dining Rooms

So here it was – my first ‘solo’ excursion; let off the leash to review afternoon tea on behalf of LadyLovesCake.

The increasing popularity of this fine blog means that more and more invitations have been coming in of late, and Lady herself is a little tead-out. While she’s claiming to be several months pregnant, I actually think the bump may be purely sandwiches and scones.

My assignment, hastily accepted, was to try out one of the most recent additions to the London teatime scene – the Strand Dining Rooms.

Just yards from the Eleanor Cross in the forecourt of Charing Cross Station, commonly seen as the very centre of London, this place certainly has its location sorted.

Interior

Interior

And now open for a couple of months, the Strand Dining Rooms isn’t messing around. This deceptively large space, right in the heart of the capital has clearly had a whole load of work, imagination and cold hard cash thrown at it.

The result is very impressive.

Leather and wood are abound, making for a wonderfully ambient aroma of ‘new car smell’ – I’ve never been inside a Rolls Royce, but I’d imagine it would smell like this. And the fact that it is situated within the ‘Grand Buildings’ lends it an extra sense of pomp.

If you need proof that no corner has been cut, a neat little video on the restaurant website shows its evolution from empty shell to bustling eatery.

Arriving with Polly, my cousin, on an October Saturday afternoon, through the touristy chaos of Trafalgar Square, the Dining Rooms felt like a little oasis of calm – a surprisingly large, open and bright space set to the low hum of London buses regularly filing past.

Cake stand

Cake stand

Shown to a comfortable booth in the front window by the betweeded waiter, we were made to feel very at home.

And so to tea.

The Strand Dining Rooms finds itself in a difficult situation.

With the exponential rise of the London afternoon tea scene over the past handful of years, those looking to entice the limited pool of customers have been forced to up their games; offering extra finesse and interesting new takes on the sandwich/scone/cake formula.

Cakes

Cakes

And while it pains me to say it, (because I am generally adverse to gimmicks when it comes to my food), the Strand Dining Rooms’ afternoon tea is a bit, well, ‘normal’.

Classic finger sandwiches offered egg, ham and salmon; the scones, (though fabulously light), failed to get the heart racing; and the cake selection, though featuring lots of juicy fresh fruit, couldn’t add the figurative icing to the literal.

While not disappointing, it was slightly deflating.

But then, we discovered the cocktails, and everything changed.

The bar had been catching my eye throughout tea. A great hulk of a surface surrounded by grand leather stools, both Polly and I felt it would have been rude not to pull up a pew and get the barman to put his skills to the test.

An espresso martini and negroni were prepared and delivered in some style and these classic offerings were sunk in no time.

Espresso martini

Espresso martini

Negroni

Negroni

Finding a bar at which you can sit is no mean feat in a culture where ordering a drink can be an ‘elbows out’ kind of affair, so sitting here in the heart of London, Nelson’s ankles just visible atop his Trafalgar Square column, was quite the treat.

So, Strand Dining Rooms – yay or nay? Well, it depends entirely on what you hope to find.

If you’re a connoisseur of afternoon teas, this place is unlikely to set your pulse a-racing. But if you’re caught in the bustle of London and in need of respite, this is certainly a location to keep in mind. I would even head back to try their a la carte menu one evening – some of the other patrons’ dishes I gawped at with envy looked very hearty.

I certainly wish the Strand Dining Rooms all the best. Its heart is certainly in the right place and, with time to settle in, could well be a decent option for many years to come.

Strand Dining Rooms can be found at Grand Buildings, Trafalgar Square, 1-3 Strand, London WC2N 5EJ. Nearest tube stations are Charing Cross and Embankment. Afternoon tea starts at £21 per person. We were guests of Strand Dining Rooms. 

P.S. LLC here – this bump probably is just scones and sandwiches! Don’t tell anyone! 

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Filed under Afternoon tea, Afternoon tea London, Eating, Food, Gentleman loves cake, London, London cafes, The West End

A lesson in papercuts at Homemade London

Homemade London

Homemade London

I have this amazing lampshade in my East End abode. It probably looks quite average to visitors but the shade is made with Liberty fabric and it was the first thing I ever made for the flat that didn’t involve sticking photos in a frame or album so I like it a lot (I asked Mr Man and he said he likes it to). Years ago I had won a Stylist magazine competition to attend a lamp shade making workshop at Homemade London and loved my session there.

Over the years, mostly due to busyness, I haven’t had the chance to return so I was delighted when they invited me to attend another of their workshops. It was tough to choose but I’ve always admired those paper cutout pieces of work ala Rob Ryan so picked that over a perfume making afternoon tea or screen printing which were the other two I was super keen on (Mother Cake has tried and failed to teach me to knit and sew many times over the years, though she did succeed on teaching one to be a safe and aware driver when Dad lost his patience and vowed never to sit in the passenger seat with one of his girls ever again).

Making my Liberty lampshade years ago

Making my Liberty lampshade years ago

Anyway, I digress. Homemade London is neatly tucked away in Marylebone on lovely little Seymour Place, close to Marble Arch and Selfridges. It’s very near one of my favourite London cafes – Daisy Green of Portman Village so you could make a proper day out of a trip to Portman Village if you started with brunch then an afternoon of making things.

Downstairs workroom

Downstairs workroom

Here's a few things they made earlier..

Here’s a few things they made earlier..

On my evening of paper cutting, I learned how with the help of a craft knife and a template that you can easily print out, you can pretty much cut out anything, stick it over some pretty paper, frame it and make something nice for your flat. It was aimed at basic beginners so even us cackhanders of the world can make something rather cool.

This is the result:

Yes, I made this!

Yes, I made this!

I enjoyed the workshop a lot. Nancy, our teacher, was really friendly and one of those true creatives that could put her hand to anything. We had a few sweet treats on hand and the class was nice and small. I think it would be really fun to attend one of these with a friend, perhaps as part of a hen-do or baby shower, or just on your own to learn a new skill.

They have a range of classes coming up – from basic knitting, to perfume making with afternoon tea, to Christmas baubles and card making (more paper cutting I think!), jewellery making and mystery craft workshops. It’s a fun way to spend a chilly evening or winter’s day and you get to go home with something you can be proud of – always a bonus!

Homemade London can be found at 21 Seymour Place, London W1H 58H. Nearest tube is Marble Arch.

*I was a guest of Homemade London, normally the paper cutting workshop costs around £30. 

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A muse for a Mews and Macarons walking tour…

There’s this incredible scene in Gossip Girl where Blair is in a huge bubble bath munching her way through a box of Laduree macarons – it is perfect. Every time I think of macarons I think of this scene from one of the most ridiculous guilty pleasure tv shows of all time. I could think of nothing better than demolishing macarons and champagne in an enormous bath with housekeeper on hand to frantically run down to Laduree when said sweet treats run out.

Perfection: Pierre Herme's signature rose, lychee and raspberry macarons...

Perfection: Pierre Herme’s signature rose, lychee and raspberry macarons…

My lovely blogging friends, notably Mandy, Melissa, Emma, Yannick, Kelly and Manasi went behind my back to bring two of my favourite things about London together before I got too pregnant to walk very far. It was as the leaves were turning recently that we met up (minus Kelly and Manasi who on the day found themselves in rather awkward situations sadly not involving macarons) and did the maiden journey of tour guide, Yannick’s, Macarons and Mews Walk.

I’m not going to give you the exact details of where we went as that would leave Yannick out of a job, but the afternoon (or morning if you prefer) involves stopping at five of Knightsbridge’s best macaron shops, learning all about the long history of one of the most indulgent snacks you can have and the background of one of London’s most indulgent neighbourhoods and characters (including a ghost) that have built this fascinating area over the centuries.

Me on one of the stops - admiring the paint work??

Me on one of the stops – admiring the paint work?? Image credit: Melissa Loftman http://herethere-everywhere.com/

I had two favourite stops on the walk – this old pub in Belgravia that Wellington used to park his horse at before a pint with his chums and which is now haunted by a ghost who lost a gamble, along with Pierre Herme’s wonderful store in the midst of the lovely part of Knightsbridge that isn’t on gaudy Brompton Road.

A beautiful Knightsbridge mews - I want to live behind one of these doors...

A beautiful Knightsbridge mews – I want to live behind one of these doors…

The walk is colourful, Yannick animated and SO well researched (I swear that man knows everything), the food amazing and the history fascinating. If you’re looking to learn some history and indulge at the same time, then this walk is for you. I will leave it to Yannick’s website to convince you further.

Thank you Yannick and my wonderful gaggle of London bloggers for such a splendid afternoon – you truly rock.

Yannick’s Macarons and Mews walking tour starts at The Lanesborough at Hyde Park Corner. More details about the tour, his other tours and his contact details can be found on his website

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GLC visits Wapping’s Il Bordello for a very good reason…

Wapping

Wapping

We’re a family friendly website on here people, get your mind out of the gutter. This fine establishment is five minutes walk from my East End Abode and I can well attest to its greatness. Here is Gentleman Loves Cake to tell you about one of the best local restaurants around. I hope you’ve eaten right now because this, again, left me ravenous…

“He was hardly more than five feet four inches but carried himself with great dignity. His moustache was very stiff and military. Even if everything on his face was covered, the tips of moustache and the pink-tipped nose would be visible.” 

Oh how I’ve always loved Hercule Poirot – Agatha Christie’s leading man – the most enduring and dapper super-sleuth of them all. So being seated in a restaurant and discovering I’d be dining alongside the most famous Belgian of them all, was really quite a treat.

I probably need to unravel this mystery a little further.

On my first visit to Il Bordello in Wapping, I was shown to a table just feet from where David Suchet was enjoying dinner with his brother, former ITN newsreader, John.

In a similar fashion to the time I bumped into Sir Ian McKellen and his two sausage dogs at The Grapes on Narrow Street, I think this serendipitous experience has given me what will be a life-long love of this cosy eatery, one of the Thames Path’s best-kept secrets and surely one of the finest local restaurants in London.

More Italian than a Fiat 500 with a wheel of Parmesan strapped to the roof, Il Bordello (The Brothel) is located barely into Zone 2, just a spit from the Thames, over the road from the wonderful Captain Kidd pub, and a mere stroll east of Tower Bridge through the chain-dominated and relentlessly disappointing St Katherine Docks.

With tables cosily packed and a centre bar resplendently clad in shiny copper, the dining room is quite an experience in itself. Combine this with a small army of pensionable-aged and waistcoated Italian gentlemen running the floor, it becomes increasingly clear why this restaurant always seems to have a queue snaking from the door.

Il Bordello - veal chop

Il Bordello – veal chop

So the stage is impressively set. But Il Bordello is unequivocally and unashamedly all about the food. With starters the size of mains and mains bigger than the sun, no one is ever going to go hungry. But where Il Bordello really succeeds is in the clever variety of its menu, and success in translating well-known and traditional Italian fare from page to plate in the heart of the East End.

This place is no pizzeria, but Il Bordello offers a classic selection on perilously thin bases with circumferences close to that of the London Orbital. Order the seafood version and an entire aquarium will arrive at your table.

Il Bordello - pizza

Il Bordello – pizza

Antipasti is widely covered, as are salads, seafood and fish. But, predictably resorting to carnivorous type, it’s the ‘carni’ section of the menu which provides the real treats – and it is very difficult to look past the five offerings of veal, especially the chop grilled with sage, butter and wine.

Desert? Tiramisu. Done.

We all know London can occasionally feel a little impersonal. From the large chains seen throughout the capital looking to pack you in and turn you around quickly, all the way through to the must-eat, special-occasion restaurants which have their sights set on the (Michelin) stars, it often feels like some places have lost the art of providing genuine hospitality with character and atmosphere and an authenticity which is, well, authentic.

But if you head just slightly off the beaten track and look down a side street or two, you’ll never find yourself too far away from a genuine local restaurant – somewhere both in and of the area it serves.

Whenever I need a restaurant in London, Il Bordello always makes the shortlist.

I’ve done the detective work for you, so give it a go, whilst I sit here and twiddle my imaginary moustache…

Il Bordello can be found at 81 Wapping High Street, London E1W 2YN. Nearest tubes are Wapping High Street and Tower Hill. 

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The best of London by Gentleman Loves Cake: St John Restaurant

St John - Smithfields

St John – Smithfields

The main conundrum with being the editor(?) of a blog and having excellent contributors is that when they send you stuff you get really hungry. This is a key example of why one should not edit their blog before breakfast. I hope you will all join me in welcoming Ed (Gentleman Loves Cake) and this thoroughly appetite inducing post…

St John - saddle of rabbit

St John – saddle of rabbit

The problem with afternoon tea is there isn’t just enough meat.

This may be a brave (or more likely foolish) thing to say on a site that deals largely with the teatime slot, but having now planted my blogging flag in a small corner of LadylovesCake I feel I can get away with writing about big slabs of cow and unusual bits of other farmyard animals – the preserve of a hearty dinnertime.

Now, while I like a delicate fondant fancy as much as the next man, I was raised a carnivore and this is a trait which has never left me. And there is one London establishment which ticks all my meaty boxes (#NotAEuphemism) and challenges my taste buds each and every time.

St John - the bakery counter

St John – the bakery counter

You may recognise the name thanks to the nigh-on-perfect custard doughnuts served from its railway arch bakery at the now overly-achingly trendy Maltby Street Market, but currently celebrating its 20th year, St John Restaurant in Clerkenwell, has been right at the heart of London’s culinary scene since the day it opened. Born at a time when Brit Pop ruled, Fergus Henderson‘s commitment to nose-to-tail eating has stood the test of time in a similar fashion to the heady anthems of Blur and Pulp.

And in a way, Henderson has followed a path similar to Messrs Albarn and Cocker – taking the scene by storm; producing era-defining work; picking up awards; falling from the limelight; continuing to produce excellence.

So what is it about this place? Well for me, St John (as well as its sibling restaurants St John Bread and Wine and the now late St John Hotel) has always been a place for family and feasting.

Each time I’ve eaten there has been to mark a special occasion – most recently my dad’s 65th – a great celebration of a life’s work complete.

St John - the old bacon smoke house

St John – the old bacon smoke house

Entering St John, aptly on St John Street EC1M, is always a joy – the former bacon smoke-house is packed with utilitarian charm, emphasised by white walls, white tablecloths and waiters decked-out all in white. Simple fixtures and fittings add to this stripped-back charm.

With a menu that changes twice daily, it’s always a joy to be handed the single sheet of A4 on arrival and seeing what obscure animal appendages are being cooked-up.

St John - the menu

St John – the menu

On this occasion – lunch on September 1st – I could have experienced liver, tongue or marrow, but opted for lamb heart with chard and anchovy to begin. Thinly sliced, delicately seasoned and cooked rare, the heart seemed to have all the hallmarks of a fine fillet steak – the knife falling through it with ease and the flesh almost melting on the tongue.

A saddle of rabbit followed, in a sauce of trotter and prune – a brave choice for someone who normally avoids mixing sweet and savoury – but a dish which may seem me changing my stance on this (although I will never reconcile myself with pineapple on a pizza).

St John - lamb heart

St John – lamb heart

And for dessert – a St John classic which seems to have a permanent space reserved for it at the very top of the sweet menu – Eccles cake and Lancashire cheese.

Also brought to the table during a relaxing lunchtime sitting were deep fried salt pollack, smoked herring, skate, a Welsh rarebit and a chocolate terrine.

St John - Eccles and Lancashire

St John – Eccles and Lancashire

So what is it about this place? I have always associated it with good memories, but it’s the food and not the sentiment which sees me return.

The simple menu means you’ll never see a ‘trio of this’ or an ‘emulsion of that’ and the focus on flavour over presentation means you won’t encounter a tower of neatly stacked chips.

But this stark simplicity belies the wonderfully thought-out dishes which are placed before you.

St John has now held a Michelin star for five years and is regularly listed in lists of top restaurants in the world – but you kind of get the feeling these baubles just don’t matter – if St John were a top actor, it would keep its Oscar in the downstairs loo.

I know that for a lot of people ‘offal’ sounds terribly close to ‘awful’, but I urge you to see past this and give St John a try…although I probably wouldn’t go as far as extending this recommendation to vegetarians.

What you’ll get from going is this – fantastic food and wine, knowledgeably entertaining service and the ability to tell everyone you’ve eaten at probably the most effortlessly cool restaurant in the whole of London.

On one visit a charming Irish waitress sang the Ride of the Valkyries as she brought the main courses to the table. I think that says it all…

St. John Bar and Restaurant can be found at 26 St. John Street, London EC1M 4AY. Nearest tube stops are Farringdon, St Paul’s and Chancery Lane. 

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