St. John Restaurant (London, UK): Nose to Tail Eating

Opened in 1994 on St John Street in Smithfield, London by Fergus Henderson, this down-to-earth English restaurant gets credit for bringing back the popularity of offal dishes, making this gem one of the most important British restaurants of its generation. This is one to remember if you ever hear a Chinese colleague tell you that Westerners don’t eat organ meat/other weird bits of animals because the whole ethic behind St. John is nose to tail dining!

Praised all around by the world’s biggest foodies, chefs, sommeliers and restaurant critics, St. John got its Michelin star in 2009 and has quietly retained it since and has won numerous awards and accolades, including Best British and Best overall London Restaurant at the 2001 Moet & Chandon Restaurant Awards. And from its first restaurant in 1994 on St. John street, this little F&B empire has grown to now include 3 restaurants, a bakery, a winery and a wine company.

Unlike most Michelin establishments, St. John has built its reputation on its food philosophy and wine alone. There is zero fuss, zero flash and zero snobbery. It doesn’t try to be fancy or ostentatious, this is a straight-forward, confident restaurant that serves a niche cuisine on a normal A4 printed black and white menu that changes daily.

The restaurant itself is a world away from the glitzy designs of the new restaurants we see pop up in metropolitan cities each week (Beijing included). Everything here is white, but not a polished, airbrushed and picture-perfect white. On the contrary, St. John has a well-used feeling throughout. Nothing is dirty, but equally nothing is gleaming. It just so happens that the walls are white, the table tops are covered in white paper table covers and placemats and the servers are dressed in white chef jackets and long white aprons.  It was a very refreshing change and it’s clear the priority is the food. Everything reflects that and our unforgettable dining experience confirms the hype is real.

26 St. John Street (where it all began!)

St. John Signage at the Entrance

A Buzzing Bar on the 1st Floor

Bakery Adjacent to the Bar

2nd Floor Restaurant Dining Area

Casual Seating & Open Kitchen

1-Page, Black & White Paper Menu

With the date written at the top of the page, you can see on this 1-page menu everything that is available with the addition of a few daily specials introduced by your table’s server.

With 8 starters, 8 mains, 4 sides, and 10 desserts with their famous cookbooks also for sale, ordering here is straight-forward and the servers were all very willing to explain each dish in more detail upon request.

Although we were just a table of 3, we came with big appetites and went to town on the menu and ordered 3 starters, 4 mains, 2 desserts and a lovely bottle of St. John Rouge (great value wine for only £27.00).

Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad (£9.20)

Roasted bones, some parsley, some sea salt and fresh bread. Deceptively simple and yet this remains one of their most popular, signature starter dishes. Spread the bone marrow on the fresh toast, add some salt and some parsley and you’re away. We are definitely going to be attempting to replicate this winning combination at home!

Voilà!

Black Cuttlefish and Onions (£11.20)

Certainly not the most aesthetic, but one of the tastiest! Tender squid topped with pickled onions to add a little bite, all cooked in the black ink to give it the colour. Simple, understated, and yet so satisfying. I can’t recommend this starter enough!

Pickled Mackerel, Potato and Spinach (£9.50)

A lot of St. John’s dishes can be quite heavy with rich offal as its specialty, but this pickled mackerel was delightfully refreshing and light. Tucked under the piles of potato, carrots and spinach, the sliced pickled mackerel was so tender and the tartness of the pickling was a really nice contrast to our other dishes.

Rabbit Saddle, Butter Beans and Aioli (£19.50)

This was a surprise hit, I think mainly because we don’t eat rabbit very often and didn’t quite know what to expect! Either way, the rabbit was beautifully cooked and the aioli and the butterbeans added a nice counterpoint.

Calf’s Liver, Braised Savoy Cabbage and Mustard (£20.50)

Everyone agreed that the liver was cooked to perfection but that the real star of the dish was the cabbage! I have no idea how they cooked it, but St. John elevated that savoy cabbage to the pinnacle of all the cabbage I have ever eaten!

Snails, Sausage and Chickpea (£19.20)

A warm and hearty stew, this is perfect winter comfort food. As someone who gets cold easily, I love me a good stew. The sausages had a nice kick and there were plenty of chunky chickpeas, but I do wish there were some more snails as that was a main draw for us to order this dish.

Crispy Pig Cheek with Fennel – Daily Special (£19.80)

This dish is rich. You will either love it or recoil from the amount of fat on the plate. Personally, we adored it, but were very much aware that you can’t eat too much of it. It is really satiating and the fact that it’s crispy makes it that much more indulgent.

Half Dozen Madeleines (£4.50)

Moving onto the sweet section of their menu, we started with a half dozen of their madeleines which came fresh out the oven. These fluffy, airy dough balls were so easy to devour they disappeared in a flash.

Date Loaf and Butterscotch Sauce (£8.40)

And finally, the finale of our first meal here, the date loaf and butterscotch sauce dessert. This is as close to an English cliché as you can get – a pudding with some ice cream and drenched in sweet syrup. We were full, but found ourselves somehow hungry again after one bite. The warm date loaf was moist and was quick to start absorbing all that butterscotch goodness.

Overall, the food is top-notch quality and supremely tasty. We were quick to start telling everyone we knew to add St. John to their restaurant hit list.

Although you can expect their menu to change regularly (maybe even daily), there are a few constants  – the bone marrow and calf’s liver among them so those you should get if you can. But feel free to order anything you see on their menu, because none of it is filler. With only a one-page menu to include their range of starters, mains and desserts, you can count on every dish being worth your stomach space if it’s made the cut.

St. John Restaurant & Bar Contact Details:

  • Address: 26 St. John Street, London EC1M 4AY (Note: St. John has 3 restaurants, a bakery, a winery and a wine company)
  • Tel: 0207 553 9842
  • Email: reservations@stjohnrestaurant.com
  • Website: www.stjohnrestaurant.com

 

About Kristen
Kristen Lum has an accomplished background in PR, communications and events in China. Born and raised in California, Kristen has been based in Beijing since 2006 and is founder of the lifestyle blog called LumDimSum, covering mostly restaurant news and reviews alongside upcoming events around town that relate to Beijing’s muti-faceted, quickly-developing creative industries like art, music, film, health and fitness, fashion, nightlife, charity events, and travel tips.

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