It is ‘simply’ the home of nose to tail eating in the Western world, the movement and approach to cooking reestablished and championed by the globally revered Fergus Henderson.
His kitchen has seen many of the head chefs of London’s best restaurants and gastro pubs like the Anchor & Hope pass through it, learning and taking on his philosophy and style. It has even been applied to seafood by Australian chef Josh Niland at Saint Peter in Sydney.
It is hard to comprehend the magnitude and underestimate the importance of what Henderson first started here. It is quite simply the bedrock of the seasonal, farm to table, and the sustainable sourcing approaches that restaurants and dinners are both keen on.
St John features a daily changing menu of simply cooked and presented dishes of fish or meat using the lesser cuts and over looked offal and pluck. Often under £20 they are clean robust dishes packed with flavour. The desserts are simple but classic and the on site bakery keeps the bread and sponges coming. Always ask after the specials they have a tendency to add new dishes as the service goes on. If you can’t get into the restaurant you can eat a very similar menu in the bar area were you’ll find both the bar and the bakery.
If you can face it (if you cant you probably shouldn’t be dining at St John) at least one of your party should start with the famous St John classic – Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad. Four cross sections of bone marrow filled bone, the marrow cooked to perfection for you to spread on toast for a soft meaty fatty spread that the parsley and shallot cuts perfectly through.
An oak leaf salad with snails or some offal is a frequent occurrence both at St John and restaurants run by its alumni. Rabbit offal and oak leaf is a superb salad, the traditional vinaigrette, a few herbs, oak leaf and croutons tossed with rabbit kidney, liver and heart. Rabbit offal is far milder than you would expect, but he kidney is like a little bundle of packed rabbit flavour.
Braised Tripe with Bacon and Peas is a light, superb dish where the tripe soaks up the beautiful flavours of the broth. The grilled Ox Heart with lentils is thin slices of beefy flavoured Ox heart, flash fried to ensure they are tender, with a classic put lentil side. Superb.
The second must have is the side of Welsh Rarebit. My god was it both the largest and the best rarebit you will ever have. A slice of their homemade white loaf, that’s twice the size of most loaves, covered in lovely spiced melted cheese. Heavenly.
The Apricot Sorbet with a shot of Russian Vodka is the perfect end to the meal. With the vodka poured over it, this homemade sorbet made for a perfect palate cleanser as well as combinations. Offered as a dessert you can order fresh cooked to order madeleines from the bakery, they are easily the largest and best I’ve ever had. But skip them as dessert and order them either to go or to dunk in your coffee at the end.
Just as the food is stripped back and clean, the restaurant is just the same, pure white, with an open kitchen and retaining the signs of the industrial site the restaurant took over. It creates a relaxed environment helped along by the friendly and engaging team of waiters.
Score – ★★★★★/5
Cost – £££
Smithfield, 26 St. John Street,
London, EC1M 4AY