A return to St John

There are certain places that so quickly begin to feel like home. The welcome is warm and friendly.

There’s somewhere to hang your coat. Wine comes swiftly in squat little glasses. You start to feel at ease.
This is what happens to us when we return to St John.

The first lunch we had at St John was more than 18 months ago. We had just sampled  the pyrotechnics of El Bulli and Fat Duck. Lunch at St John was the final meal of the merry band of eaters; The Hungry One, me, the art critic and the chef.

I remember being floored by the simplicity and the sophistication. The bone marrow and parsley salad. The mushrooms on toast.  The gangly and crisp squid with the zippy green sauce.  The madelines and the sorbet and vodka.

Since then I’ve returned to the bar for Eccles cakes and tea with a dear former colleague  and drinks and nibbles before a play at The Barbican.

This particular visit happened on a Tuesday evening. The Hungry One and I had just finished week four of our wine appreciation course, which delightfully dwelled in sparkling wines. Finding ourselves in a buoyant mind set, we tottered down the hill and very into the white washed space.

Soon the table begins to fill. There’s the same sound bread with cold butter, an English ale and a glass of Domaine la Colombette chardonnay from  Languedoc for me.

Braised squid with alexanders (a stalky herb resembling celery common to the British coast) is light and comforting. The squid has been coaxed into gentle submission and the alexanders have relaxed into gentle aromatic threads. The broth puddling around it is a fine thing to dunk bread into.

As are the mounds of goat’s curd that accompany a roast beetroot salad. It’s a simple and classic flavour pairing, pulled together in a sensible way.

Main courses and we’ve promised the floor staff that we’ll share nicely. There’s a rabbit, bean and carrot stew, with a joltingly good mound of strong aioli.

But the highlight is probably the crispy pig’s cheek salad. It’s a riot of flavours and textures with sprightly capers cutting through the richness of the flesh and crackling. We promised to share nicely, but there’s a battle of the forks over this one.

The Hungry One can’t quite bring himself to leave without some of the chocolate cake with crème fraiche.  It’s as dark as December day and slicked with lashings of ganache. This is a serious piece of chocolate cake.

The crème fraiche is both heavy and relieving all at the same time. And a small nip of Pedro Ximenex on the side is just the thing to warm the insides before a cold walk home.

Whenever I’m  feeling a little unsure about our choice to be in the UK, St Johns is where I turn.

This week on the other side of the world I’ve missed the arrival of two babies in the family (both hilariously born on the same day). I’ve missed the 30th celebrations of one of my bridesmaids and the engagement announcement of another.  I’ve missed a very special hen’s celebration.

I’ve been missing my friends and my family. And I’ve been missing the sight and smell of  Bondi beach more than I thought I would.
Yet somehow after a night in the buzzy, comforting bosom of  St John I feel steadied again.  And instead of fixating on when I’ll be flying home again, I’ve begun planning when we will come back.

St John
(020) 7251 0848

26 St John St
Greater London, EC1M 4AY
St John (Farringdon) on Urbanspoon

  1. Was talking to some Aussie friends last night about how hard it can be to be *so* far away (am technically an ex-pat too I guess, but it's only across the Irish sea so easy to get home quickly)

    But happily you are making the most (certainly gastronomically!) of the time you have here! This is definitely the way to do it.

  2. I love that somewhere "comfortable" for you is a well-renowned fancypants restaurant! If only I could be so lucky 😛 I love the look of that dense rich dessert!

  3. Oh Hannah- you just made me realise how ridiculous I sound 🙂 I think the really comforting thing about St John is how much the food reminds me of what my English granny in Australia used to cook. So, to me, a lot of it tastes like 'home'…

  4. I would love to go here! I have a couple of his books and am really enjoying his recipes. I've only tried 2 so far but they have each been beautiful!

  5. Its so amazing how food manages to transport our memories, provide comfort…and of course dining at a Michelin starred restaurant is even better:)

  6. Your granny made crispy pig’s cheek salad, wow:) Sorry couldn't help it!

  7. I hear ya about missing friends – mine have scattered around the world (well, so did I). This reminds me that I really do need to return to St John B&W… been meaning to!

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