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St John


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After much anticipation My wife and I had lunch in September at St Johns. She had the beetroot salad for a starter and I had the Bone Marrow Salad. Both were tasty. The room is okay in a sparse way . It was 90 percent full, mostly men. The mains were a little off for us though. My wife had the smoked haddock (finnan haddie?) with mash and I had the lamb sweetbreads with radish. The smoked fish was served warm and it was huge! but it was really salty. Now I'm not sure if this is part of the curing/smoking process, but it was what I'd call "hot" salty. The sweetbreads were good but I felt they needed a bit more carmelization. Little bit of letdown as the product was good, but technique slightly lacking. I'd go back and try it again if I lived in London. the bone marrow would be worth the return....

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The fuss made of what is simple home cooking is quite bewildering, though.

I wouldn’t agree. Yes, it is simple cooking, but it is done extremely well and the pricing is spot on. There’s something about St John. The minute you walk in, it is impossible not to smile and to get that rush of anticipation. A horrible cliché, but ‘the sum of all parts’ does seem to say it all. But I suppose it also depends on what you’re looking for. The couple sitting beside us were clearly a bit taken aback at how casual the place is, but I love the energy, even if it is a bit boys’ club and testosterone filled (plenty of flash lined city suits).

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The fuss made of what is simple home cooking is quite bewildering, though.

I wouldn’t agree. Yes, it is simple cooking, but it is done extremely well and the pricing is spot on. There’s something about St John. The minute you walk in, it is impossible not to smile and to get that rush of anticipation. A horrible cliché, but ‘the sum of all parts’ does seem to say it all. But I suppose it also depends on what you’re looking for. The couple sitting beside us were clearly a bit taken aback at how casual the place is, but I love the energy, even if it is a bit boys’ club and testosterone filled (plenty of flash lined city suits).

I'm really not knocking it! One has to admire the financial model, though. Chitterlings, marrowbones, venison offal and ox hearts, even from the best sources, cost pennies.

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  • 1 year later...

I recently had a most gratifying meal at St. John.

The highlights, for me, included the ox tongue, artichoke soup, and the prune & armagnac ice cream. The apple sorbet (served with Polish vodka) was shockingly good as well. And, I can't say a bad thing about the gingerloaf (although the butterscotch ice cream with it was rather forgettable).

The eel and mashers were nice, but the bacon made the dish a bit one-note. Grouse was good, as were all the other starters we tried. The hare was the only clunker of the night, though the accompanying lentils, spiked with mustard, were amazing.

You can read more about my dinner (and see all the photos) at the ulterior epicure.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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  • 3 weeks later...

Alrighty, folks, the temperature where I live has again dipped well below the zero mark (and I'm in a country that speaks Farenheit). It's time to go to the mattresses.

Does anyone here happen to have (or know where I can get) the recipe for St. John's Jerusalem Artichoke Soup? I looked in both of Ferguson's cookbooks last night and I was disheartened to find the recipe absent from both.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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  • 2 weeks later...

I think my overall reaction to this meal fell somewhat closer to Food Snob's than to UE's, but my thoughts are below and, as always, the pictures are HERE...

I’m a complainer. Faced with unpleasantry, I don’t grin and I certainly don’t bear it. It’s an unforgivable fault, really, and one my poor brother had to put up with for an entire month as we ate backpacked our way around Europe. One night, lunch was still sitting lazily in my stomach and I just didn’t think I was hungry for dinner. (Please stop laughing, those of you that know me…) While my gut grumbled so did I, insisting that we take it lightly at St. John if we even went at all. We had already been eating all afternoon, and we had a big lunch the following day as well. As long as we got the bone marrow, I told him, I’d be satisfied.

I’m a liar. But at least I had accomplices. Two of my fearless culinary cohorts had come along as well, and we told my brother we’d be having “just a taste of a few things.” But when a sick-minded individual like one of us that, it actually means, “Hey, I know! Let’s just order every single thing on the menu that catches our attention. Right? Right!” And so we did…

It’s almost pointless for me to differentiate between appetizers and main courses, savory and sweet, considering that our table was continuously full of food for the next couple of hours. But the first thing that got passed my way was Jerusalem Artichoke Soup (£6). It had an unapologetically grainy feel on the tongue, but an undeniably pure sunchoke flavor. The soup was about as complex as the menu description (which is to say not at all), and that was to become a theme throughout the night. This food here is rarely garnished and never garish. It just tastes like what it is, plain and simple.

A colorful salad of Beetroot, Boiled Egg & Anchovy (£6.80) was the lone vivid spot on a table that was otherwise filled with various shades of brown. The egg had been well-prepared, lending the yolk a creamy, spreadable consistency and the white a bouncy, but not rubbery, resistance when you cut into it. The different components of this salad sang many flavor notes at once: earthy (beets), salty (anchovies, capers), and tart (the vinaigrette). And taken together on top of the country-style bread on our table, they made a fine little canapé. Food Snob also liked the bread, apparently. He ate two loaves.

We had a simple dish of Brown Crab Meat On Toast (£7.80), well-made toast, might I add. Too many restaurants over-toast, under-toast, or — worse yet — sucker-toast. That is, they give you old, stale, flavorless, or otherwise crappy bread that’s ostensibly been revived by it’s time in the toaster, thus making you a sucker. Fortunately this toast was fresh, warm, and crispy around the edges, softened up only by the lightly mayonnaise-bound crab meat on top. A little squeeze of lemon served to lighten up the sweet richness.

The Roast Bone Marrow & Parsley Salad (£6.70) was a must. After all, it’s the no-nonsense dish that has become emblematic of St. John, if not chef Fergus Henderson himself. (If I had an emblem, I think it would be tres leches cake, given its inexplicable ability to soak up rich foods without collapsing.) The marrow was rich, fatty, and caramelized around the edges, but what really made this dish was the bright top note added by the parsley, caper and onion salad. I really enjoyed this, and frankly I wouldn’t have minded an encore appearance of this dish later in the meal.

But there were other animals to eat, including a roasted Grouse (£27.20). The breast meat was rosy, tender, and full-flavored. Its liver was spread on a crispy round of toast, and there was a puddle of bread sauce that proved a nice creamy accompaniment for the bird. The tuft of mâche tucked into its nether regions was wonderfully fresh. So it really was quite an enjoyable dish, until I made the grave mistake of trying the meat on the underside of the bird. I shudder to think about that hideously muddy flavor and putrid stench even now. I quietly wondered if somewhere nearby there was lye for me to gargle with or boiling acid with which I might burn away the foul aroma that lingered on my fingers. Alas, I settled for a trip to the bathroom to wash my hands. Moral: when it comes to grouse, the breasts are best.

”Woo! Mashed potatoes!” was my brother’s cry when they set the Smoked Eel, Bacon & Mash (£15.70) in front of him. His next cry — the one uttered when I snatched the plate from his cold, lifeless claws before he finished all of it — is not fit to be published here. This was probably my favorite of the main courses. The smoky richness of the thick-cut bacon and the steak-sized eel fillets was tempered by the potatoes. In every bite, salty and meaty gave way to creamy and starchy. Taken individually, the bacon and eel would have likely been overwhelming and the potatoes under-seasoned, but taken together, there was a simple harmony.

I didn’t much care for the Ox Tongue, Beet & Horseradish (£15.40). But maybe my taste buds just don’t like the sensation of foreign taste buds entering my mouth. If “life-like” is the texture they were aiming for with this tongue, they achieved it. It had a spongy bounce, and a thousand little bumps that together gave the illusion of smoothness. Contrary to what my companions thought, I found the flavor to be fairly muted. To me, it cried out for the horseradish, an ingredient, it just so happens, of which I am not particularly fond. Neither enjoying the texture nor the taste, I moved on to other things.

My friends can tell you that I’ve got eagle-like vision at restaurants and markets. They are just my natural habitat, I suppose. (”Hey, look over there — free samples!”) No surprise, then, that I had spotted the Hare Saddle & Lentils (£17.40) on the specials board across the room before our waitress could even tell us about it, and I snagged it up posthaste. It arrived a deep, caramelized brown on the outside and blood-red on the inside. The texture was oh-so-tender. But where, oh where, was the salt? The hare was woefully under-seasoned, which was even enough to stifle my amusement at having found a bullet in my first bite of the meat. I guess when they say wild here, they mean it.

Somebody ordered a Green Salad (£4.50) also, but I didn’t have much of that. I wasn’t hungry, remember? Or maybe I just didn’t care to put down the Welsh Rarebit (£5) long enough to reach for it. I think they called this “cheese toast” in my day. But then again, maybe my mother didn’t put beer in her cheese sauce. (Or did she?) I liked the extra kick of Worcestershire and the very noticeable cayenne pepper here.

I’d like to state for the record that I only ordered one dessert — the Apple & Calvados Trifle (£6.80). Two of my dining companions that shall remain nameless were responsible for the other four that soon filled our table. (Mothers, do not let your children grow up to be food bloggers.) The trifle was great. Every bite had different proportions of fruit, cream, and booze. But frankly, how can you go wrong with any one of those three in a dessert? Just layer them all together and call it a day.

The Pear Crumble & Custard (£6.80) was somewhat vapid. The pears were just too bland as a crumble filling, neither sweet nor tart enough. I suggested, for example, that a few pomegranate seeds scattered among the pears would have been an improvement. Anything to brighten things up. That said, the crumble topping itself and the crème anglaise were quite enjoyable, so a crumble would certainly be a dessert I’d opt for here at a different time of year.

Probably my favorite of the sweet bunch was the Gingerloaf & Butterscotch Sauce (£6.80). In fact, this might have been my favorite dish of the evening. The gingerbread was spicy and warm, the butterscotch sweet and viscous, and (bonus!) the surprise scoop of cinnamon ice cream that came alongside it was remarkably creamy. The heady heat of the fresh ginger was present in every mouthful, and the cake was already so moist on its own that the butterscotch sauce and ice cream were just, as they say, gravy.

A few frozen treats brought us down the home stretch. The first was Prune & Armagnac Ice Cream (£6.60), which had both the fruit and the booze in abundance. Was I drinking or eating? I don’t know, really. But I do know the fat chunks of macerated prunes were soft and chewy bumps I loved encountering as I let each creamy mouthful melt away in my mouth. The crisp, buttery langue de chat cookies on the side were quite delicious as well.

If we were implicitly imbibing with the ice cream, then we stopped playing games and things turned explicit with the Apple Sorbet & Polish Vodka (£7.40). Up to this point, we’d shared all the dishes, but I’m not enough of a masochist to suggest splitting a shot four ways, so someone else got to do the honors. The sorbet was nice, though. A bright, tart note to end the meal on.

Or so I thought. A woman at the adjacent table inquired as to why we were such anti-social freaks interesting people to have been taking photographs of all our food. We tried to explain, but at times, our behavior defies explanation, really. ”Oh, well we’re just here to eat,” she responded, handing me a warm Madeleine (1/2 Dozen; £3.70) with a smile. And I think that’s what this restaurant is about, really. You’re not there for boneless, skinless, gutless food or bow-tied and table-clothed service. You’re there, simply, to eat. Or, you know, just to taste a few things.

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I thought everyone knew that grouse legs were nasty?

I suppose expertise takes many forms!

Yes, I do quite enjoy hunting grouse in my free time IN BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA. :rolleyes:

I had never even seen a frickin' grouse before I went to St. John, much less eaten one.

I'm not sure what you mean by the second comment, but perhaps presumptuousness takes many forms!

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Tupac,you seem to feel you have the right to criticise minutely something in which you admit lacking expertise. Is that not presumptuous?

So next time I should withhold my comments about things I'm tasting for the first time? Or maybe just insert a list at the beginning, specifying the elements of the meal in which I have a certain level of expertise, so you can determine the validity of my comments? :rolleyes: Give me a break.

I didn't criticize the cooking or the product. I merely shared my experience of eating it.

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  • 1 month later...
Going to st johns for dinner this week, whay should i order beside the bone marrow?

My standard rule, from which I never vary at any restaurant, is to order whatever takes my fancy on the night when I read the menu.

John Hartley

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