St John’s Bread and Wine talks my language – local, seasonal, simple sustenance, showcasing the best that Blighty has to offer. The original St John’s restaurant at Smithfields was opened in 1994 by Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver and Bread and Wine followed in 2003.
This is British food done properly and for those of us the wrong side of our thirties the menu will take you straight back to the good old days when all we wanted for tea was a slice of pork pie with a dab of Colman’s mustard and a few pickled onions.
Life seemed a lot simpler ‘back then’ and on first perusal of the St John’s menu my foodie childhood memories come flooding back. Ox heart with pickled walnut and watercress, devilled lambs kidneys, smoked sprats and horseradish, beetroot and ticklemore, ox tongue, quail and blackberry jelly, crispy pig’s cheeks, trotters on toast, potted pork, you get the idea. I’m not saying that Mrs Monkfish senior insisted on serving up offal in the 70’s and that me and Sister Monkfish were left asking ‘please mum, can I have some more?’ but the point is that it all feels rather retro but in the most lovely and delicious way possible.
What I really like about SJB&W is that you don’t have to play the ‘starter, main course, dessert’ record, that’s far too predictable. A far more flexible approach is on offer here and diners are encouraged to share dishes as and when they are ready from the kitchen. Granted, ‘sharing’ is not for everyone but it is for me and my dining companions so we were good to go.
Be warned, SJB&W use the beast, the whole beast and nothing but the beast so this establishment is not for the squeamish or for those with a nervous disposition about offal.
As the menu changes daily (and is posted ‘real time’ on the website) you never know what will be on offer although the list above is representative of the dishes that are served. Between three of us we barely touched the sides of the menu (far too much to choose from) but here are a few of our choices below.
There was never any doubt that as a Preston lad Mr Predictable was going to order Eccles cakes with crumbly Lancashire cheese for dessert. One of his all time favourites. Truly scrumptious melt in your mouth cheese and a belter of an Eccles cake quite literally packed with gooey sticky loveliness that I have since tried to emulate…and ‘almost’ managed. Myself and our fellow diner ‘coffee-mate Kate’ opted for half dozen Madeleines (baked to order in fifteen minutes). As a keen baker I can whole heartedly say these were very good indeed.
Half dozen madeleines baked to order (minus one already eaten…..)
As well as the food a quick nod to the surroundings as interiors are really important to me and my all round dining experience. Jay Rayner has described St John’s as ‘abbatoir chic’ and I can see where he’s coming from. As a former bank the building has the stature to carry off the decor – very tall white tiled walls, high ceilings, industrial lighting, metal surfaces, I have to say it’s not unlike the monkfish kitchen of which I will blog about soon. The waiting staff are dressed in butchers aprons and I’m half expecting a knife wielding extra with blood stained chef’s whites to approach the table….I can safely report that this never happened. Yes, ‘abbatoir chic’ seems highly appropriate.
A very exciting restaurant for me, food that gets me animated, food that brings back very fond memories, food that is cooked well and above all tastes amazing. Sometimes the Brits can just get it so right and Fergus Henderson is one of them.
Long live British food if this is how good it can be.