I walked right past St John when I was wandering the back streets of Smithfield, such was the unassuming facade of the restaurant. With it’s roller shutter pulled down, the pub looked just like all of the other semi industrial businesses that help make Smithfield one of the more interesting locations in London.
That I was early was a given; I’d just landed in London and after a quick shower and change at the hotel, had launched into my usual attempt to stay awake after an overnight flight. My booking was for lunch, so I had about thirty minutes to kill before opening time; so I continued to wander the streets, with the most interesting activity being watching an overnight rave wrap up with quite a few people staggering out of an nondescript building starting on their walk of shame home.
I was sitting across the street, head drooping from lack of sleep when the rising roller door to the building finished it’s pathway, exposing the inner workings of St John. As I made my way down the entrance and into the building, I noted that there were two distinct sections. A downstairs casual bar area, and tucked away up a short flight of stairs, was the restaurant itself.
Standing around for an uncomfortable period of time, I was ignored by many a passing wait staff downstairs; so I took the initiative and climbed the steps to the restaurant entrance; only to be ignored for a further few minutes. Eventually, someone sauntered over with a quizzical look – as if to question my very existence. Letting the chap know that I had a midday reservation for lunch seemed to snap him out of his largess; telling me that I was in the right place and to take a seat.
It would prove to be the style of service that I was to receive for the entire day; lackadaisical at best, quite inept at it’s worst.
Unsure if the restaurant even kicked in to gear at opening time, I was the only person seated in the dining area, which was stark white everywhere; the kitchen was partially exposed, walls were white, tables where white – yeah, the dining area looked quite striking. My waiter eventually turned up and said he just needed to get the daily menu from the printer; he returned after a few minutes and placed a simple printed sheet in front of me.
St John is a specialist nose to tail establishment, with a menu that changes daily and has garnered quite the reputation for producing very tasty food. So much so, the joint’s been recognised with a Michelin Star as well as currently sitting at #91 in the San Pellegrino #Worlds50Best Restaurants.
I was keen to try the food, because one thing was for sure, that reputation could not have been built on it’s service! As I was talking to my waiter about meal options, despite my telling him that I was a voracious eater, he suggested a starter, main and dessert as the best option – it would prove to be a bad call….
Anyway, the meal started with the usual bread and butter, the fresh bread was quite nice with a lovely golden crust, but the butter was just out of the fridge, rock hard and incredibly difficult to spread.
While I was waiting for the butter to soften up, my starter arrived, which was the St John signature dish of Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley salad. Now I’m a huge fan of bone marrow normally, but the St John version was something else! Four huge veal bone segments were presented upright like chimney stacks with a splash of green from the parsley salad and two large slices of toasted sourdough, a small pile of grey seasalt from France finishing the plate. The idea was simple, dig out the gelatinous marrow, then spread on the toast with a sprinkle of salt and a touch of parsley. Simple. Delicious. Unforgettable. Wow, the bone marrow was sweet and combined with the salt was incredibly delicious.
I immediately forgot that service had been very ordinary and lost myself in the process of digging that marrow out, as if my life depended upon it…. One disappointing fact was that one of my veal bones had almost no marrow – it was almost solid bone, so I felt like I had missed out a little 😦
One thing was for sure, I had made a mess of myself and the table! Bone marrow can be pretty slippery 🙂
Shortly after my plate was cleared, it was replaced with another. I hadn’t had to wait long for my main of Lamb Sweetbreads, Carrots and Bacon. A very rustic looking plate was presented and to be honest, it was not that impressive looking. However, I was quickly reminded that looks are not everything! The sweet earthy sweetbreads came with an insanely tasty stew that included onion and carrot, as well as big chunky bacon bits. There was not a thing I disliked about this plate of food; it was robust and full of flavour, well balanced and simply satisfying. I’d have happily had a second helping….
It was at this point that I was talked into dessert instead of another main dish; look, I have to take responsibility for the decision, but I really regret not going with my gut.
Anyway, I looked over the dessert menu and the thing that stood out on the menu was the Bowl of Cherries; which perplexed me greatly. I asked if there was some tom foolery with the title, but was assured that the dessert was indeed a simple bowl of cherries. Given my penchant for cherries, I placed my order………
Only to be told that there were no cherries, and that the chef had taken the cherries to make a cherry parfait; which I subsequently asked for, only to be told that there was no parfait….
Given that the menu had just been printed, I could not fathom how a menu item was wrong/missing??
I guess I should have taken the exchange as an omen to get more of the delicious food that the restaurant was so famous for; but instead ended up with a very ordinary serve of the Raspberry Steamed Sponge. The stodgy and very solid sponge seemed more like a microwave dessert than something that a restaurant would produce. It was thick and gluggy, with a raspberry sauce that was not pleasant on the palate. Even a cup of warm clotted cream could not save the cake…
I could only get halfway through before giving up the ghost.
It was a disappointing book-end to my meal; entering the restaurant, finishing my meal and exiting were experiences that you’d not normally get in a Michelin Starred establishment.
Lucky the (main) food was out of this world!
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