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St. John Bar And Restaurant Review

Julie Falconer goes to Farringdon to try ‘nose to tail eating’

Published on July 26th 2011.


St. John Bar And Restaurant Review

SOME restaurants are all about the décor. They hire expensive interior decorators to fill the dining room with plush chairs, fancy tablecloths and expensive art. They employ fashion designers to kit out the staff with trendy uniforms and flashy accessories. Essentially, they do everything in their power to distract people from the main purpose of being there: to eat.

St. John restaurant in Farringdon is not one of those restaurants. Its bare white walls are empty save for a utilitarian row of pegs from which guests can hang their coats. In the center of the dining room, exposed metal beams rise up from the floor and jut severely into the ceiling. Around them are plain wooden tables covered in paper, and about these buzz wait staff in uniforms that look like they came straight from the kitchen.

With such spare décor, St. John makes it obvious that its emphasis is on the food. And it’s a good thing, too, because the cuisine at Michelin-starred St. John is so good that any décor distractions could lead to sensory overload.

With such spare décor, St. John makes it obvious that its emphasis is on the food. And it’s a good thing, too, because the cuisine at Michelin-starred St. John is so good that any décor distractions could lead to sensory overload.

My date and I arrived at St. John for dinner at 8:15pm. The restaurant, which was right around the corner from Smithfield Market, was housed in a Georgian building that used to be a smokehouse. We entered the glass doors and walked through the spacious, light bar area before walking up the short staircase to the high-ceilinged dining room.

Once there, the host greeted us, and allowed us to choose from any of the two-seater tables left in the room. We chose one in the center that was set close to a table of four and near enough to the kitchen that we could see the inner workings of the restaurant.

Once seated, our server was prompt in coming to the table to take our aperitif order. We each asked for a glass of the St. John 1er Cru Blanc des Blancs NV Champagne (£8.50). I didn’t know what to expect from a house bubbly, but it was impressively light and refreshing.

The Champagne was followed by a bottle of La Grange Aux Belles 'Prince’ 2008, Cabernet Franc (£47.25) from the all-French wine list. Our server displayed an impressive knowledge of the wines when we asked for help, and I was happy when he poured us both a taste upon opening the bottle.

The wine was a good choice. It was medium-bodied, but on the lighter side. It was fruity and juicy, and paired well with all of our food despite the fact that our meal ranged from haddock to beef.

Pig's cheek with dandelionPig's cheek with dandelion

Our server was with us again very soon to deliver our starters. Given that St. John’s motto was ‘nose to tail eating’, I wanted to try one of less traditional meat dishes to kick off my meal. As such, I had the special of the day, which was pig’s cheek with dandelion (£7.20).

It was one of those rare dishes that made me think I had never had anything so good before. The soft saltiness of the pig, the bitterness of the dandelion, the crunchiness of the croutons, and the tanginess of the onions all combined to form a beautifully balanced mix of flavors.

Roast bone marrow and parsley saladRoast bone marrow and parsley salad

My date had St. John’s signature starter, the roast bone marrow and parsley salad (£7.10). The marrow was soft and rich, and the parsley added a refreshing twist to it. Topped with chunky salt and served on toast, it was another winning combination.

KedgereeKedgeree

Our starters were cleared promptly and our mains arrived shortly thereafter. I had the kedgeree (£16.80), which my date was astonished to hear I had never tried before. The mixture of rice, egg, haddock, and parsley was great, and the portion was generous. Having had no previous kedgerees to compare it to, I deferred to my date’s judgment. He thoroughly approved.

Roast sirloin, green beans and pickled walnutRoast sirloin, green beans and pickled walnut

His main was the roast sirloin with green beans and pickled walnuts (£24.00). The cut of meat was thin, but juicy. The salty earthiness of the beans and walnuts provided a nice pairing, and I had more than my share of bites from his plate.

After dinner, our server brought the dessert menus to the table. I ordered the baked cheesecake with marc (£7), and my date went for the bread pudding with butterscotch sauce (£6.90). I wasn’t entirely impressed with either. The cheesecake was overpowered by the alcohol, which drowned out most of the other flavors. The bread pudding was better, but still a bit bland.

Baked cheesecakeBaked cheesecake

Nonetheless, dinner ended on a high note. The starters had been the true highlight of the meal, and the mains a close second. While dessert was disappointing, I would return to St. John any day for another meal that was so focused on the food, that the cuisine became the ambiance.

 

St. John Bar and Restaurant
26 St. John Street
London, EC1M 4AY


Rating:             17/20 

Breakdown:        8/10 food
                         5/5 service
                         4/5 ambience 

 

Follow @aladyinlondon on Twitter!

To read more of her writing, visit her London travel blog and Europe travel website.

 

 

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away.

 

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