Monday, April 16, 2007

St. John is my new second home.

After tea at The Dorchester, I was dying for a nap, and I had a sneaking suspicion that my rather prim trousers and pearls would not be quite right for dinner at Fergus Henderson's now-legendary St. John Restaurant. So I trooped back to the hotel, laid down for a bit, and got myself all dressed for dinner (jeans, flats and blazer, for those who care).

I headed up to the Tube, emerging from the Farringdon stop a bit later. (I do love the London Underground, despite its inordinate (£2) price tag - it's clean and efficient, and they've got these fabulous signs that tell you when the next train is coming. Not uncommon in Europe, I know, but it's something that we've been testing here on the L train that MTA just can't seem to get working. But I digress.) I will be brutally honest - I got awfully lost on my way to the restaurant, partly due to a poorly-marked map, but mainly because it was dark and I couldn't see any familiar landmarks, so I couldn't orient myself. I felt better when someone stopped me on the street and asked where the nearest supermarket was - clearly, I was not the only one having issues.

I arrived at the restaurant (only five minutes late), a starkly-designed, stripped down space right near the Smithfield meat market. The space wasn't sleek so much as it was plain - white, scrubbed, with bits of steel and wood here and there. The bar was raucous and smoky (it was 9:00 on a Friday night, after all), something I thought boded well.

I had called earlier in the day to change my reservation from three people to one, and the hostess escorted me to a table close to the pass-through, set for one. I thought that was a nice, hospitable touch - none of that clearing away of other silver or glassware to remind me that I was on my own. Typically I'd find the pass-through distracting, but being alone, I was thrilled to be so close to the action. The table to my right (the tables are arranged in rows, and you're quite close to your neighbors) was engaged in a heated debate in what I think was Dutch, so they were pretty much out for eavesdropping possibilities.

The hostess brought over the hot-off-the-presses edition of the Green Guide to London, and I settled in for an evening of good food and drink. My waitress was lovely, offering me sparkling water by the glass and taking my order with good cheer. Sadly, my first choice main course (the lamb chop with aioli) was sold out. I decided to start with the classic choice - the bone marrow and parsley salad - and have the pot roast, which was quite a bit like corned beef. I also ordered veggies - half potatoes, half cabbage - and sat back to enjoy my glass of red.

The bone marrow salad was, as expected, quite tasty. Served with the best implement I've met so far, a lobster fork, for digging the marrow out of the piping hot bones. On the side, freshly toasted sourdough and a parsley, caper and shallot salad. I could have done with a bit more salad, to be honest - as I always can when bone marrow is concerned. This accompaniment was the best I've found in my relatively limited bone marrow eating career, second only to the compote served at Landmarc here in Manhattan.

My main was tasty and hearty, but, to tell the truth, nothing special. The potatoes and cabbage were excellent, but the beef was rather dull. I am still kicking myself for ordering it, frankly. Especially when the loud dude to my right got his lamb with aioli. It smelled excellent. So sad...sigh.

That said, the overall experience at St. John was excellent - a wonderful balance of casual hospitality and fine-dining quality service. I felt welcome, as if I was in someone's living room, but I also felt well-served. Dinner came to £42 with tip - a bit pricey, frankly, though it would have been well worth it had I ordered a bit better.

Thoroughly stuffed from a day of food, I passed on dessert (the apple tart ordered next to me looked unreal, though). I did grab an after-dinner drink at the bar, though - as fun as it sounded from the dining room. Something about bars closing at 10 PM just makes everyone so ready to party.


Sally Big Woods said...

I love your photo of the Bone Marrow Salad. Isn't it great that it passes for salad in the UK!?

Meg Blocker said...

Exactly - you've gotta love a place where meat-flavored butter = salad. To be fair, there were capers and parsley, too! ;-)

Louisa White said...

That place sounds wonderful! And I love your food pictures so much, Meg. St. John is definitely on my list for the next trip to London...

wayfarer said...

I too went to St. John's on my last trip to London, after the chef won accolades for his innovative use of internal meats. It was smokey when I went too. But I loved the clean, spare quality of the dining room. Living abroad now, I look back fondly on the experience...unfortunately I can't get pork like that where I live now.

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