For years there has been one restaurant on my London hit list. Fergus Henderson’s St. John Bar and Restaurant is known to foodies around the world for ‘nose to tail’ cuisine. He prides himself in using offal and other parts of animals that are often neglected. Henderson has been a pioneer in revamping England’s food scene. Anthony Bourdain and Mario Batali have praised Henderson for his heroic stance on bringing back a type of cooking that used to be a daily part of everyday life, but now sends most Americans heading for the hills.
Once I had reservations on the books at St. John, I finally relaxed. Henderson expanded his empire by opening St. John Bread & Wine and St. John Bakery. On Sunday, Matt, Lisa, David and I arrived at the inconspicuous and unassuming restaurant near the historic Smithfield’s Meat Market in London. The plain black and white exterior signs mirrored the interior of the restaurant. The floors were beautifully worn and the stark white walls were weirdly welcoming.
Although the menu isn’t for the faint-hearted, there were a few safe items on the menu for those who aren’t feeling adventurous. The wait staff was very knowledgeable and was happy to help decipher the menu. That guidance is necessary unless you are very familiar with English seafood and heritage brands of meat (or research the menu ahead of time like my brilliant husband does).
Here are the dishes we ordered:
- Native Oysters
- Potted Beef & Pickleroot
- Terrine with Cornichons
- Roast Bone Marrow & Parsley Salad
- Crabmeat & Toast
- Middlewhite & Parsnips
- Deviled Kidneys on Toast
- Braised Rabbit, Turnips & Aioli
- New Potatoes & Sprout Tops
Just about everything was delicious. The grouse was OK, but I wouldn’t order it again. The oysters tasted like the Atlantic Ocean, so salty and fresh. In England, I’ve developed a taste for potted meat. The potted beef at St. John’s was just as good, if not better than the potted pheasant and pigeon at Borough’s market. Although the terrine did not look appetizing, I assure you it was. The texture was smooth and the flavor was heavenly. The crab-meat spread on toast was rich and light at the same time, although it wasn’t something I fancied. I ordered the Middlewhite, and if you click on the link and look at the picture, you’ll know why. The skin was crisp and crunchy while the meat literally fell apart and melted in your mouth. I have never tasted pork so tasty and tender before. The roasted parsnips were a great accompaniment. At the recommendation of our waiter, David ordered the deviled kidneys. The kidneys were cooked in mustard, cayenne and worchestershire sauce, and despite the look of them, were amazing. The texture of the kidney can be challenging, but the taste was enjoyable and packed a punch with the powerful flavors. The dish I saved to describe last, but certainly not least is the magnificent bone marrow and parsley salad which is one of Henderson’s signature dishes. David and I have been dreaming of eating this dish for years and had high expectations and were not disappointed. The rich, fatty, butter-like substance that is spooned out of the bones is out of this world. I’ve had bone marrow before, but what set this dish apart from others was the preparation. The waiter instructed David to spread the bone marrow on the toast and then top with the parsley and onion salad and sprinkle with grey salt. Just typing this is making my mouth water. The second I am back in Seattle, I’ll be going to the market to desperately try to recreate this magical recipe in our kitchen.
I love coming away from a wonderful dinner not just because the food was delicious or the wine was paired perfectly, but because I pushed my palate, boundaries and experienced new things. I now know that grouse is a small game bird, middlewhite is a local breed of pig, and skate is a type of fish in the same family as the sting-ray. We left with full stomachs, smiles on our faces and memories that will last a lifetime. With menus changing daily, there’s always an excuse to go back.
I have a rule against taking pictures in restaurants, but at St. John, I broke my rule. I couldn’t help myself and with the relaxed and laid back atmosphere, I felt comfortable quickly taking pictures (without the flash of course). Enjoy.