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St John Restaurant, Farringdon

April 6, 2011

K and I have been eager to try out St John’s for ages now but never got round to it. Hence when a friend of ours was visiting London and mentioned he’d like to try out this restaurant famous for serving ‘animals’ insides’, we jumped at the opportunity. Plus, I was keen to taste their famous Madeleines again, which I had at St John Bread and Wine a few months ago.

St John was opened in 1994 by Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver and champions ‘nose to tail’ eating. This means you will find the normal cuts of an animal and what would be delicacies to some, on the menu – ox tongue, chitterlings, bone marrow and kidneys. I like the concept – it implies less food wastage and creativity with undervalued parts of an animal. The menu changes slightly before each service, again implying that there must be a focus on absolute freshness and we all know how important that is when it comes to meat.

The restaurant is located in a converted smokehouse in Clerkenwell, round the corner from Smithfields meat market with pared-down, no nonsense decor. The service was casual and friendly. I must note that our waiter was most knowledgeable about the dishes on offer and despite a busy service was friendly and attentive throughout our meal.

How did the food fare? Here’s what we had:

For starters, K had the famous roast bone marrow & parsley salad – the marrow was gamey and fatty, quite enjoyable in small amounts. Personally, I think it’s a lot of work for a tiny bit of food. Our friend, J had the ox tongue – a special of the day, served with butter beans which was a little bit on the bland side. I had parsnip soup & snails – I loved the crunchy snails which were perfectly seasoned and went very well with the sweet, thick parsnip soup.

As for mains, K ordered the chitterlings & chips – yes, pig intestines served with chips. The chips were great – proper fat chunky chips, probably cooked twice. The chitterlings were tender and but slightly chewy – are they supposed to be like that?

J really pushed the boat out with his offal feast and had devilled kidneys – again, quite enjoyable in small amounts. As a main dish though, even J felt a bit ‘ugh’ after his 4th kidney.

I had the pot roast smoked Gloucester old spot, trotter & white beans – don’t get me wrong, the pork was very well cooked, the meat was firm with a slightly smoky taste but there was just so much fat on it! Yes, tasty but oh my arteries!

J finished off with this rhubarb Eton mess – I don’t like rhubarb, at all. But J seemed to enjoy this dessert.

K and I shared the madeleines – these tasted as good as I remember them. They smelled so buttery, we had heads turning to see what had arrived on our table. I saved some for tea the next day and they were still lovely, though I’d say best eaten warm.

We were not disappointed with St John but truth be told, we did not fall in love with it either. Credit where credit is due, everything was very well cooked and true to form, unfussily presented and served. Prices were very decent, given this is a 1 Michelin star restaurant. If we do return, it would probably not be for the offal which almost doesn’t justify a return visit really.

Price for plates as above for 3 persons with a glass of wine, 3 beers and a side order of Savoy cabbage = £109 before service charges

St John Restaurant is located at 26 St John Street, London EC1M 4AY which is about 5 minutes walk from Farringdon/Barbican stations.

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