St. John

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..)


St. John
26 St John Street
London
EC1M 4AY
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.

St John on Urbanspoon

Category: Restaurant Reviews 11 comments »

11 Responses to “St. John”

  1. Wendy

    I used to eat honey soaked grasshoppers in Japan. Really liked them! Imagine they would have tasted like sawdust without the honey coating though…

    Wendys last blog post..Marco

  2. Helen Yuet Ling Pang

    Lovely review Helen! Brings back the memories again, even though I’m currently full of dumplings! When I saw the photo of the Eccles cake with cheese, I felt so in awe of your eating abilities. I was already struggling after the kid (you and I had the same starter and main!).

    Love your description of your ‘list’. Mine’s an email draft that gets updated every day!

    Helen Yuet Ling Pangs last blog post..St John (British) – London, England (8.5/10)

  3. Dan

    Great Review . I really fancy eating there – but so far have only popped in to buy bread as its near my office.

    On the subject of Bread, strangely, St John Streets ‘cup runneth over’ where it comes to great Bread.

    ‘The Larder’ further up the Street also has an on-site Bakery, and their bread is pretty delicious too.
    (You can purchase it at the deli counter next door – but sometimes it isn’t on show – just ask for it – Granary is paticuarly nice.)
    Nothing like buying a loaf that is still warm from the oven!

  4. Robert McIntosh

    such a great review of a wonderful evening. thank you so much.

    I am very touched by your ‘epiphany’ regarding wine and I think you’ve got it absolutely right. It isn’t about knowing everything, it is about using what you know, and what you can get others to tell you, to try something interesting, quite possibly new, but always exciting (a bit like the food). let me know if I can help

    Looking forward to meeting up again soon

    Robert McIntoshs last blog post..What wines to match with Food Bloggers?

  5. Lizzie

    Great write-up – I still can’t believe how much cheese you got with that Eccles cake. Oooof!

    Lizzies last blog post..Slow-Roasted Pork Belly with Apples

  6. we are never full

    no… def. don’t take anyone who even thinks of themselves as a veggie here. i think if you breathe the air at st. john it’s as if you’ve eaten meat. i’m sad you’re not wild about bone marrow. it’s not for everyone. i def. think it would be on my ‘death row last meal’ list (only in America, folks!). but good thing you can knock this one off your list of places to eat!

    we are never fulls last blog post..Viva El Patacon and Childish Humor

  7. David Hall

    Hi Helen. Well, I’m pretty jealous, I love St John and what it stands for and have cooked extensively from the 1st book. Surprised what you say about the refinement as I always thought that was the beauty of the place – no pretentions! I’m going this year so will let you know my thoughts.

    Cheers
    Dave x

  8. Helen

    Wendy – i expect a honey coating would really improve a grasshopper!
    Helen – Well I think it was a case of ‘eyes bigger than stomach’!
    Dan – Hey thanks for the tip off, I will definitely check it out. Always up for trying new bread
    Rob – No, thank you! It was a wonderful evening and I am really excited about my new wine tasting adventures.
    Lizzie – I know, it was too much, even for gluttonous old me..
    We are never full – Oh, don’t get me wrong. I did love the bone marrow, I think I just built it up a bit too much in my mind…
    David – Well that is what I was saying you see. I also like the fact that it is informal and relaxed, I was just a bit confused as when you go to a Michelin starred place, you get a certain style of food and St. John differs from that. I actually prefer a more informal atmoshpere. It was just contrary to my previous experience. Happy eating at St. John!

  9. Ben @ cookingaround

    It’s great isn’t it! I went with a large group of friends for a stag do. We were met with a tripe starter, followed by a whole suckling pig. Awesome.

    Ben @ cookingarounds last blog post..My winter warmer

  10. haber

    Wonderful pictures! I backpacked through Europe 15 years ago and your blog is bringing up some wonderful memories.

  11. KrisBelucci

    Great post! Just wanted to let you know you have a new subscriber- me!


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