I will not take up your time, dear boy, with telling you what is the matter with me. Life is brief, and you might pass away before I had finished. But I will tell you what is not the matter with me. I have not got housemaid’s knee. Why I have not got housemaid’s knee, I cannot tell you; but the fact remains that I have not got it. Everything else, however, I have got.
So it was with us at St John Bread and Wine. We wont take up your time (yet) telling you what we did have, but we will tell you what we didn’t: we didn’t have the salad, the butternut squash soup or the beetroot. Everything else however, we ordered. Everything else, we ate. We threw in a few daily specials too for good measure. I fear we are getting overly used to large menus and today we embarked on an epic feast.
On taking our order, the waiter drew a deep breath, nodded and feigned respect at our folly. Two dozen soiled and empty plates later, the respect was now reverential; by now, he was little surprised that we should also choose to attack the dessert menu with gusto together with a bottle of sticky adding the heartfelt comment, ‘why not, there’s nothing you can’t do.’
Before we go any further, let’s first take a step back in time. At the risk of gastronomic blasphemy, our last meal at St John Smithfield (in the days before the blog) was disappointingly ordinary in both available menu choices and its ultimate delivery; something was clearly wrong that day. Subsequently however, when Fergus Henderson was cooking at the Action Against Hunger annual dinner at No 1 Lombard, Mrs CC taking a little ciggie break outside the back door between courses bumped into Fergus doing the same and ended up engaged in a discussion on the best way to cook a pig’s head. Fergus was quirky, brilliant and a smoker; we restored him to the pantheon. We also knew that our previous experience was not representative of St John by a long way and resolved to return. It took some time to do but today, we crossed the threshold of St John Bread and Wine hoping for a food adventure: we duly found one.
It [SJ Bead & Wine] very much beats its own drum with a menu structured towards a slightly less formal manner of dining, with guests actively encouraged to share dishes as they're ready from the kitchen.
This entirely suited our plans and with a friend joining us for lunch making it three at the table, all with big appetites, we felt we had enough to tackle the menu. All of it (almost).
For the record then, we ordered the following:
- half a dozen rock oysters
- smoked haddock, frisee & duck egg (x2)
- potted pork
- crispy Old Spot, chicory & mustard
- ox tongue, pickled walnut & watercress
- red mullet & kohlrabi
- foie gras & duck liver toast
- cauliflower, butter beans & hedgerow garlic
- mussels, cider & alexanders
- plaice, brown butter & sea purslane
- cold middle white & piccalilli
- snails & sea beet
- mutton chop & carrots
Feeling invincible in our gargantuan appetites, we followed through with
- Eccles cake & Lancashire cheese
- hot chocolate pudding & caramel ice cream
- rice pudding & quince jelly
- one dozen Madeleines
Invoking Jerome K Jerome, were we to detail how each dish was, you might pass away before we had finished. Instead, we’ll do two things. First, memorable dishes. Second, overall impression.
Really, everything was pretty excellent, though none of us cared too much for the Swedecake, it tasted too much of Swede (funny that) without much addition.
Who hasn’t had a debate on what is English food? It seemed to us today sitting here enjoying plate after plate of delectable treats that this was the real thing. It was said by our friend that ‘I wish I could bring some French people here who look down on British food and show them just how good it can be’. We also thought this offering was a kind of UK tapas and potentially provides a meal offering a real unity of shared experience to diners. Nor is it so expensive, our second great value meal in two days.
Overall, this was a wonderful and indulgent afternoon. We love French food and we love Italian food. With St John, we can now say proudly we love English food. Spread the word.
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