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Andy Lynes

St John

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Enjoyed a very pleasant evening at St John yesterday with a number of other egullet/C********s. It was my first visit to the restaurant proper and I was favourably impressed. The restaurant and bar are formed from a converted smoke house. Both are very plain and functional. The kitchen is open to the dining room which is all very nice when the chefs are cooking, less so when they are cleaning up. I also feel that the chefs would probably be happier if they could shout at each other, sing and take the piss like normal kitchen brigades do rather than have to be on best behaviour because they are sharing their space with the customers.

The food is equally unadorned and for the most part tastes great. The bone marrow salad was a hightlight, as were all the puds we tried, but main courses were a little disappointing. My braised hare with swede was slopped on the plate, works canteen style and although good, was a little one note, as were most of the other main courses. To me the pared back nature of the food is done in rather a studied way, and arguably is as pretentious as the most elaborate creations of a 3 starred kitchen. Service was pleasant, if a little slow. The bill came to around £50 a head which included 3 courses, side dishes, 4 bottles of wine, coffee, water, digestifs and service. Two of the table had the woodcock at £23.00 which was by far the most expensive item (tastes like most other game to me, not as nice as grouse I didn't think) with most mains under £15.00.

So, not destined to become a favourite of mine, but I really like the bar and will definately go back for a chitterling sandwich sometime.  

 

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Andy

While I agree with 90% of what you say ( St J's is one of if not my absolute faves in town )

if I may be just a bit pedantic.  can something be "slopped" on a plate and "done in a studied way" at the same time?

You were far too mean to give me anything other than a mere morsel of your hare, but I think it is unfair to call the Old Spot or the woodcock, "one note"  and the kidneys worked on a lot of levels

otherwise a fair review

S

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Slopped in studied way - if they could manage that it would be be worth a Michelin star. This is me being vague again.

I think the lack of pretention is their USP, and something that they are very well aware of. That's not a bad thing by any means. I just get a mental picture of Fergus Henderson doing his nut if one of his chefs tried to be neat with the food: "Do you think you're working for Gordon Ramsay? Now throw that away, and this time spill more gravy. We'll be getting another AA rosette if you carry on like that"

   

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Andy & Simon: Was your group in the restaurant?  I was eating in the bar area beginning around 8:45 pm Tuesday (my second meal at St John in as many days). Admittedly, I chose an eclectic combination of dishes;  however, the meal was less good than the first.

The game broth tasted somewhat Bovril-like.  I couldn't quite tell what game had been used in the clear both (it was described as including pheasant) based on the taste.  I also had the chicken liver toast (v. large portion), the smoked mackerel, and the crab with mayonnaise.  The crab required more work to access the meat than most.

On the things that might help a Michelin star, improving the wine service would be one aspect.  There's apparently no sommelier (the waiters provide advice, which appeared limited when I heard it being dispensed to neighbouring diners).   The waiters did not regularly refill wine glasses or water glasses after they made the first pour.  These aren't necessarily unfavorable aspects of a restaurant -- just negatives w/r/t macarons.

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I simply must go to this place next time I am down south, after all the interesting discussion it has produced. I have been given a proof copy of Henderson's "Nose to Tail Eating", which has been fun to read. For my two cents (Pence?) worth, after reading this book I would guess that Michelin stars are not being chased at all. I had a friend who went there a few months ago and after a good meal they sent their compliments to the chef, when they were leaving Henderson came out and presented them with a bag of Eccle (spelling?) cakes to take with them. I like that attitude, much nicer then being told you have two hours to eat your meal and to get out.

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I had my inaugural lunch there 3 days ago (posted a review in the "Old Bailey" thread").

I agree with most of what has been said in this thread. "Studied casualness" is, I think, what Andy means, and certainly I found that to be one of the strengths of their ambiance. That WOULD include getting the waiters to advise on wine :)

Of course, it's the food that matters more. I'm not sure that I quite agree with Andy's "one note" criticism (assuming I understand it correctly). I found the two dishes I had were marginally on the bland side, but equally that the flavour grew on me as I tasted further. If that is "one note" then it makes an interesting change from the modern French multi-flavours-competing type of dish, and I for one like having that as an option.

St John is very different in many ways from other restaurants; I think it's all the better for that. It's now firmly on my list of restaurants I will visit regularly.

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St John is definately a one off, there's nowhere quite like it in London which is a strength.

You have understood the one note criticism. The food is not about complex flavours, so therefore it is not a failing of the cooking.  

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Anyhow very nice meeting everyone finally, Andy, Simon, Robin. Simon we must do dim sum at Hakkasan at some point - and I did manage to hunt down Howler (or, rather, he hunted me down).

i) re one note I would disgree. The dishes (from the menu grazing i invariably do outside on the way home from work) seem to be two note - always two well-matched ingredients on a plate (possibly a third if fergus is feeling like doing something a bit complex...). A perfect example are the chitterlings. When i had then it was hot chitterlings, some cold chicory and a mustard sauce. perfect combination of two ingredients/temperature contrast etc. with just the mustard to tie them together.

ii) I was amused that out of seven foodie three ordered the signature dish (marrow) and three the terrine (viz 'the true test of any restaurant is its terrine and its lemon tart')

iii) Woodcock very pleasant, gamy. Would agree with descriptions of the dish mentioned elsewhere. Brains a bit small but noticeably there. The best bit undoubtedly the crouton - a thick slice of fried crusty bread with the gut-puree (don't worry - not recogniseably gutty) on top. Dear for twenty three quid I guess, but I daresay there are many places in town where they will charge you more for less.

iv) hmmm. maybe less a bit slopped. But if you reverse engineer it it goes a) things are slopped because b) there are only two or three elements to each dish so they can't really be arranged in any other way so c) there are no fiddly garnishes and things crowding the plate so d) the chefs have more time to get the important bits - the two or three bits which are there - done to perfection so e) what you do get to elegently slopped tastes all the better for it!

overanalysis? moi?

anyhow, off to san fran to ski and graze. seey'll in Y2K2!

cheerio

J


More Cookbooks than Sense - my new Cookbook blog!

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Have members sampled the (roast?) suckling pig at St John?  When I inquired about this, the manager indicated that it has to be ordered whole (presumably for 8 or 10+ people)  :confused:

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When I ordered the woodcock there a few years back, I asked if they would be serving the trail on toast and they had no idea what I meant.  Sounds like the guts are now present and correct.  It's a shame Henderson is no longer in charge of the French House Dining Room, because I found that a more cosy setting for his food.  Incidentally, I thought St John was a converted abattoir - but perhaps that's consistent with it being a smoke house too.

If you look at the photos in 'Nose to Tail Eating', it is clear that Henderson is making a very specific and considered statement about the way his food should be plated and indeed eaten, right down to what the table should look like.   I think "studied slopping" is not a bad way to put it.

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I had a pork cheeks with kale dish (appetizer size) at St John last night.  It was quite good.  magnolia -- I almost went to Mju or a Japanese restaurant ;)

The pork cheek meat was satisfying -- served appropriately hot in small, unevenly-sized cubes, many of them ladden with semi-liquid fat. There were some effects reminiscent of crackling (incl. the aroma). The meat reminded me of the meat of roast suckling pig found in certain Chinatown noodle/meat shops (generally served cool). The cheek cubes had been fried just right and were served immediately afterwards. Perhaps the only minor negative was that some parts of the meat seemed a bit saltier than others, for reasons unclear.  The kale, a vegetable which I had probably taken only on one other occasion, had stronger asparagus connotations than I remembered and was served with capers, bits of parsley and a light oil-based concoction.

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Calabres

That sounds like a great dish and the comparison with chinese pork is an interesting one

I am not sure that Kale would have been the right side to have with this because it can have a rather over powering flavour.  was this listed with the meat on the menu or did you order it separately?

S

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was this listed with the meat on the menu or did you order it separately?

Simon -- It was listed together, as a single appetizer. I did eat the two parts of the dish separately, but, that being said, I didn't think the kale too severe.  The oil in which the kale was served had acidity to it.  In fact, before sampling the dish, I had thought the capers would be a poor match for the kale, but that was not a problem in hindsight  :wink:  I was quite surprised by the fatty nature of the cheek pieces served up.  I agree that the only other time I had kale, it had a stronger taste.  However, in the dish last night, it tasted like asparagus (with slight celery connotations, but not with respect to the "strands" in typical celery).

There was a dish that I almost tried last night -- fish soup.  I wonder if it is like fish soup from Southern France when served at the restaurant. I also followed up with the restaurant about the whole pig -- apparently, figs, plum and other fruit are stuffed into the pig. The dining room member indicated the head is served to diners whole, with, obviously, the snout and ears. This was of some interest to me given my failure to take in the same at Pied de Cochon in Paris.  (See "I want to eat it .... I really do ..." in "Adventures in Dining".)

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Viewing the "Absinthe" thread under "General" reminded me that St John has absinthe, by the (shot)glass, on the digestifs menu. Also, I have seen absinthe at certain Tescos!

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I went again last night in search of products porcine and I have to say my love affair with this place continues to grow.

I started with the Pigs cheek.  It was the best starter I have ever had at St J's.  Confit and then roasted, it was crisp and delicious, like the most melting crackling you can imagine.  My date's salad of purple sprouting brocoli with a sauce of anchovies and capers was very good but no comparison.

For the main course, she had faggots ( a weeks detention all you americans giggling at the back ) and I tried, for the first time, squirrel.  It was a revelation.  The nearest comparison I can make is to hare, but more gamey. They served the shoulder, saddle, and legs braised in a sauce thickened with blood and they served the guts on toast.  

A shared pudding of Brigade pudding ( also called Bee's Bum on the menu ) was a swirl of light pastry with mincemeat and served with an impossibly thick cream

lots of wine, coffee and a sticky plus the meal came to £100 which is not bad.

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I tried, for the first time, squirrel.  It was a revelation.  The nearest comparison I can make is to hare, but more gamey. They served the shoulder, saddle, and legs braised in a sauce thickened with blood and they served the guts on toast.  

Simon -- St John had squirrel on the menu last night?!  I assume they did not serve the tail? How much more gamey than hare was it? Note Wilfrid and I have been pining after rodents. See "Guinea Pig In Queens" thread under "New York City and State". I'm going to go tonight.  :wink:

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Calabres

They did indeed and there was no way I was not going to try it.

The meat was tender due to slow cooking and the sauce has a slight smokiness to it which was interesting.

It was not overpoweringly gamey.  I like game that has been hung  for weeks, but this was a little more subtle.  The guts on toast was a good touch.  They did this with roast woodcock before christmas.  It is like a very strong pate.

If it is on the menu tonight, do try it.  I would definitely have it again

S

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I started with the Pigs cheek.  ...

I tried, for the first time, squirrel.  It was a revelation.  The nearest comparison I can make is to hare, but more gamey. They served the shoulder, saddle, and legs braised in a sauce thickened with blood and they served the guts on toast ...

lots of wine, coffee and a sticky plus the meal came to £100 which is not bad.

The squirrel was as Simon described, and was gamey and satisfying. I had called to reserve the little one shortly after Simon's post; that was most helpful, as all the other squirrels had been served by the time I arrived.

The limbs had been quartered, and were displayed realistically as though the animal were sprawled forward.  :wink: It took a little bit of adjustment to this initial impression, as I still equate rodents with rats (despite Wilfrid's recent corrections) and the presentation added to this association. Given the braised preparation, the meat was surprisingly "intact", permitting a sampling of its smooth texture, and not at all "stringy". The red wine/blood/stock sauce was just right. Included in the sauce were nice touches of softened stewed onion, small bits of smoked bacon and softened, but still flavorful, watercress. The flavors worked. For an unknown reason, the meat had a very slight sweet-ish aftertaste that was unexpected following its gaminess. Alas, there was no crouton.

Prior to the squirrel, I took in a refreshing Cockle and Cabbage Salad. Small, clam-like shellfish items were nicely integrated with the crunchiness of coleslaw-sliced raw cabbage. A light olive oil, lemon and chevril (?) mixture bound the items together.

The total was around what Simon paid per person, with a 1/2 bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, J. Mestre "Cuvee des Sommeliers" (1994), taken into account (no dessert, aperatif or digestif, though; uncharacteristically, I resisted the Ruinart champagne offered by the glass).

Simon -- Thanks for the squirrel lead. The menu has changed yet again (I attempted to order pork cheeks again, but they were neither available nor on the menu). Items that might be of potential interest to you (?) included apppetizers of (1) pig's tongue, bread and green sauce, and (2) rolled pig's spleen. Entrees included tripe and fennel, and guinea fowl, turnip and aioli.

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I may have to move back to London.  I am consumed with envy.  Why the heck can't I get squirrel in New York?

Seriously, did they serve the suirrel's brain.  There is a school of thought in the midWest that the brain is the best bit.

Thanks for the descriptions, you lucky people. :sad:

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