British Restaurant in London, United Kingdom: St John Restaurants, Wine, Travel, Opinions

St John
Restaurants and bars
Open: Lunch Mon - Fri, dinner Mon - Sat
Price: Moderate

Reviewed By

Sue Dyson and Roger McShane
Phone Number: 020 7251 0848
Address: 26 St John St
Country: United Kingdom
Food Style: British

Fergus Henderson's St John is a comfortable, comforting mecca for food lovers where we were surprised to find that seafood is as much a central player as the much-touted 'inner parts' of the pig.
The publicity for Fergus Henderson's wonderful cookbook "Nose to Tail Eating" all revolved around eating offal and other inside bits of pigs, cows and sheep. However, as we read the book, we realised that there were as many dishes based around seafood or vegetables as there were about meat. So we set of to St John to find out for ourselves.
Don't expect plush surrounding to accompany Henderson's food. St John is fairly stark but in a pleasing sort of way. Wooden floors and bare walls save for the coat hooks that follow the walls around the restaurant set the scene. Tables are arranged in rows like in a canteen and there was much talk between tables as unrecognisable dishes arrived.
There is a lot of chatting between floor staff and those in the open kitchen setting an informal feel to the place.
A half-bottle of Trimbach riesling is opened while we decide what to have after the fresh oysters and razor clams. The oysters arrived smelling of the sea and the large razor clams were meltingly tender and fully-flavoured, helped simply by some olive oil and parsley dressing.
The menu descriptions are mercifully short and what appears on the plate is similarly brief and uncomplicated. So descriptions are "Terrine" or "Rolled Pigs' Spleen & Bacon" or "Devilled Kidneys" or "Woodcock". Adjectives and verbs don't have any role on this menu.
The restaurant is famous for its roast bone marrow so we felt the need to order it. Four short bones were served with a parsley, caper and onion salad with two slices of the trademark toasted bread. Sea salt was spooned onto the plate by the waiter to make the point that salt enhanced the flavour of the marrow. Suitable instruments were provided to extract the precious goo. And flavourful it was. Spoon some onto the toast, add some salt and then sit back and enjoy. This was a great dish, simplicity and perfection combined.
We took the seafood theme into the main courses as well. A dish described as "Skate, Chicory and Anchovy" saw a long blade of golden skate that was moist and succulent served with a simple chicory salad. A smoked eel, bacon and mash dish was interesting in that the two slices of bacon were so good that they almost stole the show from the main player. This stood up well to a Delagrange Cote de Beaune that was available by the glass.
For dessert we shared a quivering, trembling quince jelly that enclosed a single whole prune and was accompanied by ice cream and a very good biscuit. We enjoyed a sweet, red Rivesaltes with the dessert.
We enjoyed our meal here but we have had a lot of feedback from people whose opinions we value about snooty service and less than perfect dishes which suggests that the restaurant is cruising rather than aspiring to excellence. We will visit again to see if we have the same reaction. That is why we have removed the 2 heart rating it formerly had.
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