Tel: +44 (0)20 3301 8069
Address: 26 St John Street, EC1M 4AY
Cuisine Type: British
At the Smithfield end of St John Street there’s an unassuming Georgian building (a former smokehouse) that now houses a wine bar, bakery and restaurant. And it’s really very good, though if you want something glamorous and fluffy you better go elsewhere. The floors are peeling, painted boards and it’s on the chilly side (it was a very cold day when I visited), and spotless white linen is lovely but doesn’t add to the cosiness.
The food, though, does. It’s like stepping back in time. Venison, rabbit, kedgeree, trotters… the menu is a wonderful mixture of traditional British food, some of which I haven’t seen offered in a restaurant before – such as sprout tops, those sweet frilly bits from the top of the Brussels sprout stalk.
Starters vary from a simple veal broth (£6.60) to more exotic dishes such as braised cuttlefish, leeks & salsify (£8.60) and the tempting roast bone marrow and parsley salad (£7.10).
When did you last eat woodcock? You could have done the day I was at St John – mind you, it would have set you back £32.50. Minced beef on dripping toast (£15.80) sounded just too good to be resisted, and indeed it was; I had a special that day, a thick steak of turbot with lentils and a green sauce. Other options included rabbit saddle with radishes (17.80), venison offal with beetroot (£18.60) or even a pheasant and trotter pie (£34.50 for two people). And if you give them a week’s notice you can even have a suckling pig.
Puddings (around £7) are just as redolent of times past – the classic brown bread ice-cream was superbly creamy and came with home-made biscuits that melted in the mouth. Apple crumble and custard was just as it should be. Eccles cake and Lancashire cheese, and vanilla cream and rhubarb, were other tempting options. Or if you’re feeling particularly nostalgic and can bear to wait 15 minutes, you can have madeleines (£4.20 for six, £8 for a dozen).
The wine list is good and reasonable, and the service is excellent – helpful and knowledgeable waiters are on hand whenever you need them, in pristine white wraparound aprons that fit the bill perfectly.
The restaurant isn’t cheap but it certainly is good. If you want to try the experience on a budget I have it on good authority that the Welsh rarebit, served in the restaurant as a side order but also in the wine bar downstairs, is extraordinary.