St. John has been high on ‘the list’* for a year or so now, so I was chuffed to say the least when I (along with Helen, Lizzie, Chris and Niamh), got invited to eat there by wine blogger Rob McIntosh (of Wine Conversation and Thirst for Rioja) and winemaker Rafael Vivanco and Hugo Urquiza, from Bodegas Dinastia Vivanco. Our visit fell just one day after St. John received its first ever Michelin Star. Now that’s what I call great timing. I’m a big fan of the St. John nose to tail eating philosophy, I eat a fair bit of offal and I’m always up for trying new bits of animal, like a good foodie. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever turned down any food that was offered to me. Including a fried cricket. Which tasted, incidentally, like sawdust.
The purpose of our get together was to discuss the fascinating phenomenon that is social media (particularly Twitter), and to have a general all-round banter about the wine (all from Dinastia Vivanco), the food and well, everything really.
Before we got down to the business of ordering the nose, the tail and everything in between, we started the wine tasting with a white Rioja (above), which I loved. I’m sure I’ve tasted a white Rioja before, but I didn’t appreciate it fully as apparently, it is uncommon to find a white from the region.
As Helen says, it was around this time that Rob talked about the acidity of wine and how it really matters when matching with food. For example, some wines may taste a little too acidic for ‘just’ drinking but when paired with particularly rich or fatty food (St. John has a lot of this), it is able to cut through and balance.
A bit of acidity was most definitely needed with my starter – the St. John signature dish of roast bone marrow with parsley salad. I’d tried bone marrow before at The Taste London Festival and it didn’t really leave much of an impression. I hear so much about how it tastes so amazing, that I had to try it again in case my tastebuds had deceived me. It was better this time but again, I don’t quite understand the hype. Don’t get me wrong – the rich marrow, topped with the piquant parsley salad and a good spinkling of salt really makes for some lovely eatin’, but I think I was expecting the experience of a lifetime. A girl sure can make a mess eating it too. Check out the carnage below.
With the starter we also sampled a Dinastia Vivanco Rioja Crianza 2004 (that’s red, and fruity). It was at this point I had a mini epiphany about wine tasting, realising that I can actually pick up the aromas and flavours the rest of the table was talking about (check out Rob’s write up for more detailed notes). To me, wine tasting and matching is something I’ve always found daunting, thinking I will humiliate myself by making the most awful pairing ever known to man. Then I realised, I’m just trying to overcomplicate things. I actually drink a lot of wine, but I never write about it in case I get it wrong. Things will change!
For my main I ordered the roast kid and when it arrived, I was pretty chuffed to be honest. It looked stunning, served with white beans and kale – perfectly cooked and hearty. It tasted (unsurprisingly), like goat but milder. The meat was beautifully tender with excellent crispy fat. Yes, more fat. Detox schmeetox.
Our remaining wines were both red, a Dinastia Vivanco Rioja Reserva 2001 (I remember Rob saying look out for hints of balsamic and I amazed myself again by actually picking some up) but my favourite without doubt was the Coleccion Vivanco Rioja 4 Varietales 2005 (sorry about the photo). A really big wine for my really big plate of meat, beans ‘n’ greens.
When it came to ordering dessert I was drawn to the Eccles cake with Lancashire cheese – firstly because Chris mentioned that he loved it on his last visit and secondly, because I missed out on a similar dessert at the sherry and food pairing with Heston Blumenthal (I had to leave early. Gutted). The fruity, sweet cake was balanced well by the slightly sharp cheese although I couldn’t eat it all – the slice of cheese was big, as are all the portions at St. John. I had a touch of food envy over Lizzie’s wibbly wobbly rhubarb jelly, which seemed like a much more sensible option after two rich courses and much tasting of wine.
Overall then, St. John surprised me. I knew the food would be ‘rustic’, but I did expect a little more ‘refinement’ from a restaurant just awarded it’s first Michelin star and I think this was the general consensus among our group. That said, the ambience is informal, which I enjoy, despite the surroundings being even more stark than anticipated. The lack of any embellishment in the restaurant decor does focus attention solely on the food, wine and company though, which is, after all, the point. Perhaps it’s just the unfamiliarity of a total absence of ‘faff’ which caught me off guard. Makes you wonder if it’s all really necessary doesn’t it? Lizzie also wonders this in her write up.
I’ll definitely go back to St. John, although I wouldn’t dine there with any vegetarian friends. The emphasis on meat and offal, the stark, white surroundings (reminiscent of a butchers shop) and the ‘serious’ meat knives already present at table when you arrive, may prove a little unsettling if you’re not the carnivorous type. That said, the menu includes fish and vegetarian options, something to bear in mind for my return visit. Which, if Chris’s reaction to the photos is anything to go by, will be just as soon as payday arrives.
Oh, and I’ll be ordering some wine. And not apologetically like I usually do. I shall be asking for advice, thinking about it, remembering and most of all enjoying. If there’s one thing I’ve learned recently, it’s to stop giving myself a hard time over wine tasting. I don’t know much about it, but then there’s only one way to learn, right?
(The Bakery at St. John, above. I must add that the bread is excellent, Lizzie and I couldn’t stop eating it! Chris also recently tweeted that he thinks he may never be able to eat bread from anywhere else. I can see where he’s coming from..)
26 St John Street
0207 251 0848
*’the list’ is my ever growing scribble of restaurants I need to visit, like, yesterday. It’s a tatty little notebook, crammed with bits of paper which fall out all the time and have me scrabbling around on the floor like an idiot.