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St. John’s Bar and Restaurant, Smithfield

I recently had the pleasure of going to dinner at St John’s Bar & Restaurant in Smithfield, London. Another work event that has allowed me to explore culinary London, and another restaurant that has been a long time on my hit list.

St John’s Bar & Restaurant was opened in Smithfield by Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver in October 1994. The former part smokehouse/part townhouse, is a stunning location for a restaurant with whitewashed walls and high ceilings. Fergus Henderson is famous for his book Nose to Tail Eating, and this is reflected in the daily changing menu, which, frequently includes many types of offal including bone marrow and chitterlings.

My fellow diners were very excited about this, I was slightly nervous. In principal, it fits with my ethic, no waste and the best parts of the animal are not abandoned. I love black & white pudding and other products that are offal related but I had not braved the hardcore offal products. I’ve only been eating meat for a couple of years now (excuses!), in a serious sense anyway, but as always, I am open to experimentation. I wasn’t alone in my trepidation, we even had a pescetarian on board, so we decided to go for a group menu at £40 a head, with our choices of a fish starter and main course and a meat starter and main course. We would also be allowed to get two a la carte starters and main courses. This was perfect, allowing me to play safe and dabble. I was quite excited at the prospect, knowing that I would definitely have a good meal and opportunities to explore.

We arrived and entered the impressive bar, and ordered some wine. Well, a kir royale first and then some red & white for the table. Not long after were ushered to the private eating area. It was quite compact but very sociable, I really liked it. I do think it made life difficult for the waiting staff, however.

The food arrived promptly, and was presented in a no frills way on large sharing plates, again very sociable and I approved. For starters we had Mussels, Leeks & Salsify (top photo) and Venison Saddle, Beetroot & Pickled Walnut. I had both and they were really good, the salsify was beautiful, an unusual ingredient that deserves to be used more. It complemented the mussels perfectly and appeared to blend with the leeks. The venison wastender and delicious, although the beetroot might have overshadowed it a little. We also had a la carte Roast Bone Marrow & Parsley Salad, which I didn’t taste but it was generally very well received. Add to list for my next trip there!

For our main course we had Roast Beef & Horseradish which was served rare. We almost had a scene as everyone wanted some. Really (you know who you are ;)). We also had Brill Baked on Green & White Vegetables, predominantly fennel from what I gathered. I had the brill and it was superb, moist, tender and fragrant with the fennel which cushioned it underneath. The mains were served with big bowls of baby potaotoes and delicious spring greens.

Last course was yet to come, and already I was full. We indulged in Chocolate Mousse & Steamed Marmalade Pudding. Both enormous and decadent. I am not a fan of steamed puddings generally and this one didn’t convert me, but the others liked it. The chocolate mousse was sloppy and divine, I could have dived into it.

What did I think overall? The service was a little erratic but then so were we. A friend there that night, had been there before and she was quite surprised as the service had always been excellent on previous visits. The food was delicious and I definitely want to go back again, except next time, perhaps in a smaller group. It’s an opportunity to try great english food: good ingredients cooked very well (my mantra!), all in a lovely setting. It’s also a place to be brave and try something you might not normally eat, like chitterlings or bone marrow. I would recommend it and will be going back for more.

St John’s bar & Restaurant
26 St. John Street, London EC1M 4AY

Reservations 020 7251 0848 / reservations@stjohnrestaurant.com

http://www.stjohnrestaurant.co.uk/

28.03.08
OOOPS – catastrophic error (spot the amateur!) – we were actually at St John’s Bar & Restaurant not St John’s Bread & Wine as originally stated. I think that’s testament to the amount of wine I drank that night! Apologies.

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I like food. I like to make food. Eat food. Photograph food. Write about food. Mainly in London but when I am lucky or organised further afield.

8 Comments

  1. I was apprehensive before my first visit too but I loved it and it’s now one of my favourite restaurants. Fred always has the bone marrow and each time I manage to eat a little more of it!

    We’ve been three times I think and always had brilliant service too, perhaps the private dining aspect made things erratic.

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  2. The roast beef looks stunning! I’ve not been before, because although I love meat, I’m a bit squeamish when it comes to eating other animal parts (even though I’m Cantonese!). So it’s reassuring to read this! Thanks!

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  3. Hi aforkfulofspaghetti – I really enjoyed it, I loved the simplicity of it and the bold flavours. I have yet to try teh Spittalfields St John’s but am keen to go. Could be worth another try?

    Ginger – I must try the bone marrow next time. Or get someone else to order it and ahve a taste ;-) It was absolutely the private dining aspect, we were a large group and it was a small space. We still had a good evening though.

    Foodieguide – Thanks! I hear it was good (I didn’t have any beef myself). Do try it sometime :-)

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  4. I have been to the restaurant and I must admit to beign underwhelmed. I agree 100% with Fergus Henderson’s philosophy, but for all that, the experience on the night we went felt a bit… worthy. Our waitress was distinctly lacking in joi de vivre and her white outfit and unsmiling demeanour made her a dead ringer for a young Nurse Ratchett – not a good start! The main courses were OK if unspectacular (I think I had guinea fowl) and the pudding was similarly not earth-shattering. But the bone marrow…. it was love at first slurp, and if I went back it would be for drinks and that salad!!

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  5. Maybe I got them on a good night, but I really enjoyed it. Shame about the service you received. I must try it again, for a normal meal, not with a group and see how it fares.

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