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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.