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St. JOHN Bar & Restaurant Smithfield*, London [Restaurant Review]

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Reviewed by The Wild Boar

Great, just what the London based food blogging network needs – another review on St John’s. To date, there are 15 (!!) blogger reviews on Urbanspoon since June 2008, three of them by the Food Snob alone.


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So anyway, what’s all the fuss about?

And what’s the gimmick here? Well, the book title “Nose to Tail Eating” from Fergus Henderson (one of the two owners, the other being Trevor Gulliver) really captures the spirit and ethos of the restaurant – celebrating the gloriousness of meat, but not just the loins, fillets or the ribeyes, St John’s aims to relive the glory days in the past when people ate pretty much the entire animal including innards, entrails et al (hence, eating from the nose to the tail), something not entirely alien from my childhood in Malaysia (as an aside, I would be very appreciative if anyone can recommend a good place to get pig innards porridge in London).


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Perhaps unsurprisingly then, St John’s opened up shop next to Smithfield Market. Since then, they’ve also opened a branch near Spitalfields Market to accommodate for a larger bakery operation. At any rate, the original St John’s at Farringdon still has a working bakery which provides fresh bread and desserts for the restaurant; odd then that the bread was so ordinary although it would probably be a lot better if it was warm.


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Roast Bone Marrow & Parsley Salad”. This is probably THE most famous dish of St John’s (as epitomised by Jay Rayner way back in 2007). The idea is simple, four pieces of beef bone roasted till there is a slightly crispy crust to the marrow, to be smeared across toast. The highly fatty marrow provides such a rich gelatinous texture that you actually need the parsley salad with the sharp vinaigrette to cut across the fat (something we found ourselves but echoed by the maitre d at the end of the meal when he came to enquire how we found dinner). A superbly brilliant simple but highly effective dish.


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Roast Bone Marrow & Parsley Salad
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Duck Gizzards & Butterbeans”. Not strictly speaking true, but I simplify gizzard to be the stomach found in birds. I’ve had chicken gizzards before in Malaysia but always found it a bit tough and chewy. Therefore, huge surprise when the meat here was not only tender, but still retained its aromatic taste, helped hugely by the simple but very tasty broth.


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Duck Gizzards & Butterbeans


Pot Roast Smoked Gloucester Old Spot & Chicory”. It may be a rare breed in the UK, but I’ve now seen this breed in a fair number of restaurants now. The smoking process was an interesting touch and it gives a slightly different twist to the texture of the meat. I feel it also help prevents the pork meat from become too dry. Otherwise, this dish is tasty if slightly plain and I’m not big fan of the bitterness from the chicory.


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Pot Roast Smoked Gloucester Old Spot & Chicory


Ox tongue. I chose something from the specials so I don’t have the ‘proper’ name of it I’m afraid. I suppose it hardly matters though, because the ox tongue (pan fried I think) was such an excellent cut of meat to eat. Very little was done with the meat to be honest, but it then actually allows you to enjoy the meat which was delightfully tender and moist with just enough seasoning so it’s not bland in the slightest. It was made all the better with the creamed horseradish, sharp enough to accentuate the meat but not too pungent. Hard to pinpoint exactly why, but this was a dish that made me just go “Wow!” from the first bite and I enjoyed every morsel of it.


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Ox tongue


Welsh Rarebit”. From what I remember, the waiter described this as essentially a thickly sliced white bread with a topping made from paste of cheese (cheddar I think), mustard, Guinness and cayenne pepper with Worcestershire sauce to be splashed on top. Anyway eating rarebit is a new experience for me so I can’t compare to others, but I found this very tasty if very strong in flavour as well which made it a difficult side to go along with the slightly mild pork for example. It was also very filling and we had to abandon the last quarter of it to ensure we had space for dessert.


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Welsh Rarebit


Apple Strudel”. To start with the positives, the cream was awesome; having just the right blend of consistency (fairly liquid) with flavour (not too rich, but still creamy) and helped greatly by the very liberal usage of vanilla pods. The strudel itself was not bad, but I found the apple filling too tart and the pastry too thick and not flaky enough (vague memories of being in a bakehouse in Vienna and being told the strudel pastry should be thin enough to read a newspaper through; certainly didn’t feel that way here). The PigPig also didn’t fancy much for the nuts in the strudel.


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Apple Strudel
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Bread Pudding & Butterscotch Sauce”. I was expecting bread and butter pudding, only to be surprised by something that resembled more a Christmas pudding. It was still pretty good though with a generous dosage of fruits although I thought the bread was too gooey and lacked sufficient body. The comparison to a Christmas pudding was further deepened with the alcoholic ice cream (whiskey though I think).


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Bread Pudding & Butterscotch Sauce


Service was fairly good throughout; our serving waiter was happy to recommend various things on the menu and seemed fairly knowledgeable of the items on the menu. The interior of the restaurant was pretty basic though and I’m not sure as to whether it was planned as such or they simply had difficulty beautifying a converted smokehouse. The most important aspect to a restaurant for me is the quality of the food, but the ambience does make a difference.

Altogether, the bill for a three course meal each with one additional side and a glass of rather good wine (which I forgot the name of, sadly) came up to £40 each excluding service charge. Oh also the wine list is exclusively French, for better or worse.

Food – 8.2
Service – 6.5
Atmosphere – 4.0
Value – 6.0


I have to admit I’m not entirely happy with an ‘ugly’ number like 8.2 for this score, but I feel the need to set this slightly higher than the previous places that scored 8.

Well anyway concentrating on the food, I feel that while the constructions were mostly quite simple (fry the tongue, slap it on the plate), the execution was by and large excellent. My only regret of the evening was not remembering Laissez Fare’s endorsement for the egg custard and overestimating our eating capacity.

Would I eat here again? Certainly.

St. JOHN Bar & Restaurant Smithfield
26 St John Street
London
EC1M 4AY
Tel: +44(020) 7251 0848
Official website

St John (Farringdon) on Urbanspoon






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