Thursday 22 January 2009

St John

I was recently invited to St John's for dinner. Shortly afterwards, the Michelin list came out; St John had been awarded a star. Most excellent timing.

I had been meaning to go to St John for a while; nose-to-tail eating sounds great and also challenging. I'm not offal's biggest fan - kidneys and liver aren't my favourite, but I do like tripe, so I was looking forward to pushing my own boundaries a bit.

Myself and a few other bloggers (Niamh, Helen G, Helen, Chris) were kindly invited along by Rob from Wine Conversation so that he could tell us about some wines that we were drinking, and in turn talk about the impact on social media tools - such as Twitter - as well as food, drink, and general banter.

So, upon arrival I was surprised to see the restaurant itself looking quite spartan. High ceilings, stone floors and plain tablecloths is very different from what I'd expect from a Michelin-starred restaurant, but there was a heathy buzz in the restaurant and a lot of full tables. We were seated in the private room, which was perfect due to so many of us taking photos!

To start, I ordered the 'Pig's Head & Radishes'. In my mind I expected some sort of pressed terrine, and was quite surprised when I got this. Amongst the radishes there were chunks of pork, quite fatty and flavoursome pieces. The radishes worked well in this dish. The contrasting textures were very pleasing, and it was all lightened with a warm vinaigrette. Excellent crusty bread helped mop up all the lovely juices.

Others had the signature dish from St John, the 'Roast Bone Marrow on Toast with Parsley Salad'. It was an impressive plate, with the bones standing tall like the pillars of the Colosseum. Armed with what looked like a torture instrument with which to extract the marrow, the bones released a luscious paste with which to spread on the toast. The parsley and caper salad was perfect to cut through the richness of it.

With this, we had the first of the wines, a white Rioja. I had commented that I'd not had a white Rioja but apparently it's not that common to find it. This wine was perfect, and possibly my favourite of the night - it was light and refreshing, matching my pork dish perfectly.

Next came the mains. When I first saw the menu, I saw several things that I wanted to try - roast kid, woodcock, teal, ox hearts. But one thing caught my eye, which was 'Chitterlings & Turnips'. I've never seen chitterlings on a menu before, and I wanted to seize the opportunity to give them a go. I've had pig's intestines in Chinese cuisine before, but I don't remember much about how it tasted. Besides which, in true food envy paranoia, I made Helen promise I could try her roast kid dish...

When the plate arrived, I was surprised to see the size of it - I shouldn't have eaten so much bread... I loved the turnips; they were juicy and had absorbed much of the porky goodness. The pork itself was tender and some pieces fell apart at the touch of a fork - other pieces had a pleasing, jelly-like wobble. The Dinastia Vivanco Crianza was my favourite red; it was robust, slightly smoky and stood up well to the meaty mains.

Speaking of jelly-like wobbles, this rhubard jelly, compote and shortbread was one of the highlights of the food. The jelly was just the right consistency and was the right side of sour. The sugary shortbread and the custard balanced it out perfectly and was a light and refreshing end to the meal.

I had a great time at St John - good food, excellent wine and great company. I must say it's very different from other Michelin starred restaurants and I did come away feeling a bit confused about them being awarded one. Of course the food was gorgeous in it's own right (although perhaps I over-did it with the double pig courses), but when compared to places I've been to like Maze, Benares and Umu, it wasn't really in the same league. I mean, there was no one to walk me to the toilet or to pull my chair out for me - or even to pick my napkin off the floor (!). That says a lot, really; obviously these things aren't always needed.

The great thing is that the menu is contstantly changing, meaning I have an excuse to go back.

Edit - check out Rob's excellent post for more info on the wines we drank.

St John on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

I just came across your blog while on twitter. I love the photos and recipes. I'm not a great cook but I'd love to try to make something...we'll see what happens!

foodieguide said...

Gosh, you're quick! And you were out and then went to the gym. I've been in all day and have just only managed to select my photos. Double pig - more impressive than roast bone marrow followed by roast kid?!

bellaphon said...

I believe your reaction to StJ's first star is perfectly valid. Guided tours to the loo and full 'adhesive' service aside, the cooking here is simply not convoluted enough to be Masterchef let alone Michelin. But the pleasurable eating experience here does confirm the fact that decent British cooking can turn up trumps with aplomb. Great write up.

Dan said...

Great Review.
I've always fancied going to St Johns for a meal - I work down the road in Clerkenwell and somethimes pop in there to buy bread.
But like you, I'm not an offal fan, probably more from never really eating it when growing up. So it seems almost 'alien' to me.
But - I'd love to give it a go, more so now Ive seen whats on offer from your post.

Anonymous said...

St Johns looks lovely, the marrow looks delicious. Usually work in Farringdon, so another on my 'too visit list'

Unknown said...

I think it is a really different choice for the Michelin guide - but one that I applaud given that St Johns has had a world wide influence on cooking. You can't say that many of the typical Michelin restaurants which are flash and French generally really have. I am booked in to go for the whole roast pig feast there in two weeks - very excited!

Anonymous said...

great to read your write up, thanks for this and a great evening (wobbling jelly aside)

also glad you enjoyed the Vivanco white, it surprises a lot of people :)

looking forward to meeting up again, but maybe not pork next time!?

Anonymous said...

Great write up Lizzie, I must get around to writing mine! It's next on the list! i agree the white rioja was gorgeous. Wibble Wobble

Andrew said...

I've been several times and it is just because it isnt like a michelin starred place that I like it so much

Anonymous said...

I love St John for that black-and-white starkness, which seems to contrast rather well with the usually rich and fully flavoured food. And the way that the bar area used to be an outside courtyard or driveway and has been blended into the rest of it very well.

I'm disappointed they failed the napkin test though; if a Michelin inspector had been there at the time then I doubt they'd have got their star!

Their wine list is packed with French wine, but I usually get the feeling that wine from the usual French regions just isn't a good match. It feels like it needs something with "elegant rusticity". Usually we have Jurancon Sec as a white, which being from south west France is very close to northern Spain and hence Rioja :-)