If someone asks me what British food is I don’t know if I can give a good answer to that question. Having lived in London for two and a half years I’m still embarrassingly ignorant on the local cuisine. I think part of the explanation is the distraction provided by the international restaurant scene in London, an excellent one on top of that. Being spoiled with many options is one of the perks of living in the British capital. This leads me to the topic of this page, St. JOHN Bar and Restaurant. If I have to name one British restaurant I would probably say that St. JOHN Bar and Restaurant is very close to the down to earth food that I understand British cuisine to be.
The restaurant was founded in 1994 and is now run by Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver. The success has spawned several sister restaurants, a wine importer and a hotel through the years. What carved the restaurant its niche is the unpretentious presentation of even less pretentious ingredients like ox heart and chitterling, also known as “nose to tail” eating. For the real experience a big group is necessary to have the Whole Roast Suckling Pig. There are of course less daring options on the menu for the faint hearted diners.
White walls, white paper table cloths, waiters in white aprons and white chef-like tops whisper simplicity. The only notable ornaments were the black lamps hanging down from the ceiling. This leaves only one thing to focus on, the food.
Both of us had the same starter, the Brown Crab on Toast. It was a special dish of the day and the sound of crab made me forget the Roast Bone Marrow I originally intended to order. I was afraid that the toast would overpower the crab but it turned out to be quite nice. The crab was there although discreetly mixed with mayonnaise and a dash of lemon.
This plate of braised rabbit reminded me of school canteen for two reasons. The first one was the brown colour palette (thanks to the common “brown sauce” in Swedish school food). The second one was the casual presentation. However it was more than that. The flavourful sauce went well with the rabbit with the occasional piece of bacon as a breaker. We had a plate of green salad as well dressed with a mustard vinaigrette.
We chose to end the lunch with madeleines after being sold into it by my friend who had tried them before. When they arrived the table two things struck me. First, they were huge for madeleines I’m used to. Second, they were fresh out of the oven. The fluffy and soft texture created the illusion that I could have 10 of these at the end of the meal but reality caught up after the second one…
We had a good meal although my friend had to battle with fish bones. I regret a bit that I didn’t go for anything more exotic than crab and rabbit but enjoyed both nevertheless. Maybe I’ll come back for dinner some day to have something more “appropriate” for this restaurant. Service was swift and the unsophisticated food was delivered by staff with a sophisticated charm. Coincidentally Fergus Henderson was having lunch at the table behind us.
For more photos from St. JOHN Bar and Restaurant, please visit my Flickr set.
St. JOHN Bar and Restaurant
26 St. John Street
London EC1M 4AY
Tel. (+44) 020 7251 0848