A tasting journey through the best of British cuisine wouldn’t be complete without a visit to St John’s. I’d been fortunate enough to sample Fergus Henderson’s simple fare during a nose to tail pork extravaganza at Bird Cow Fish (now sadly closed) back in October 2009.. and had, at the same time, snaffled a signed copy of his seminal “Nose to Tail Eating”. I remember sneaking up behind an equally excited Kylie Kwong as we got our books signed.
I opt for an outing at St. John’s Bread and Wine (rather than the original restaurant), partly given my wife’s desire to partake in some market shopping at Spitalfields Markets, but particularly, as Momofuku Seiōbo chef de cuisine, Ben Greeno, had insisted that their bacon sandwich was a London culinary ‘must have’.
Unfortunately, the tardiness of a family in holiday mode meant we missed the 11am breakfast cut-off and a chance to try Mr Henderson’s magical breakfast ‘bacon sarnie’. The polite staff mention they’ll be open again for lunch from 12:00pm and an early arrival should snare us a seat. We took a short wander through Spitalfields Markets and were promptly back for lunch, one of the first through the door.
The restaurant decor is presented along classic lines: black and white tones (including the old school ‘butcher shop’ like tiles on the floor), simple wooden chairs and tables, wine glasses atop. Just as you’d expect from Mr Henderson.
Wandering across to the bakery section, there’s a broad selection of baked goods on offer, patrons dropping by to pick up their artisan breads.
Back at the table, scanning the menu, there are so many appetising dishes to pick from (although unfortunately, Fergus’ renowned Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad doesn’t feature at this restaurant offshoot).
The extra dishes offered on the daily blackboard, whilst mouth-watering, just make the selection harder.
In the end, we sample from each, picking a simple medley as I introduce the family to a bit of ‘nose to tail’ dining.
There’s also an ample selection of wines to choose from (they are a wine purveyor as well).
A couple of glasses of the St John labelled ‘Pic St Loup’ Rouge 2012, a cabernet syrah blend, produced in Southern France by Jean-Benoit (soft tannins, dark red fruit and herbal notes), prove to be an excellent lunchtime accompaniment.
Huddled in the smallish kitchen to the rear of the restaurant, the tempo picks up as the St John staff work through the incoming dockets.
First up, the unctuous Crispy Pigs Skin & Tarragon.
Who can resist crispy pork skin ? Dipped in tarragon mayonnaise, together with a bite of pickled vegetable, various fingers snatch the crackling off the plate.
There’s another round of acclamations as the Foie Gras & Duck Liver Toast is placed on our table.
This traditional dish is oh so good, smeared across crunchy toast together with some tiny tart cornichons.
The two steak tartare aficionados sitting at the table eagerly wait to taste test the Raw Dexter & Bone Marrow.
A rare cattle breed originating from Ireland, Dexters have a small frame and are known for their lean, tender and flavoursome meat. The raw beef, hand diced, has been seasoned with herbs, chopped gherkins and a good drizzle of olive oil. Turning the egg yolk through the mixture and spreading it across the crisp bread, it’s a fresh, delightful rendition of this classic dish. A small scoop of gelatinous bone marrow brings a further layer of decadence.
The Quail & Aioli is simplicity on a plate.
Gently roasted, the meat carves easily away from the bone. Accompanied by a dab of ‘garlicky’ aioli and a squeeze of lemon, it’s a tasty embodiment of the phrase “less is more”.
The junior foodie on our table requested the Rabbit Saddle, Turnip & Green Sauce.
Fergus’ versatile green sauce (hand chopped herbs, garlic, anchovy and capers) marries well with the succulent rabbit meat. Together with the baby turnips, it’s a nicely textured and tasty offering.
Finishing our delicious mains, there’s a little room left for something light and sweet. Revisiting the menu, we’re tempted by the Poached Gooseberries & Elderflower Ice Cream but ultimately decide on a half dozen Madeleines. Made to order, there’s a fifteen minute wait.
Glancing around the restaurant, it’s fairly packed now.
Many diners, with table reservations for the 1:00pm slot, are enjoying the more substantial dishes available from that time. The highly popular roast pork dish, Middlewhite Belly, Dandelion & Mustard, looks fabulous.
Well within fifteen minutes our warm, buttery Madeleines arrive.
With a hint of honey, they’re light and fluffy, each bite savoured.
Exiting the restaurant, we’ve enjoyed a really excellent meal, the service professional and friendly. I’m fully sated and steeled for a few hours of clothes and jewellery shopping at Spitalfields Market !
St. John Bread and Wine
94-96 Commercial Street London E1 6LZ UK
+44 20 7251 0848