St John, Smithfield

I once took a friend to St John in Smithfield to mark her birthday, and what a great choice it was!  Even before I went Fergus Henderson’s concept of “nose-to-tail eating” heartily met with my approval, even if some bits of animal ending up on his menu would not have been my first choice.  Having been only once, I will have to leave delighted like rolled pig’s spleen for another occasion, but there is no doubt that the restaurant is memorable in many ways.

Worth commenting on the building too, courtesy of St John’s admirable website:

The former smokehouse, situated around the corner from London’s Smithfield Market had fallen into serious disrepair since ham and bacon smoking ceased in 1967. The Georgian building had been part townhouse, part smokehouse (this part having been built later over the townhouse gardens) and following its abandonment had been used variously and in no particular order as squats, a greenhouse for harvesting bean sprouts, a Chinese beer store and the occasional rave.

The upper floors of the building, now our administration, managerial and directors’ offices had been the headquarters of Marxism Today during the late 1960’s.

If you visit St. John you’ll find the building pretty much as it was found. We’ve painted the walls white, installed a bar and a bakery in two of the chimneys and a kitchen, dining room and private room in the former packing rooms and topped the bar with 20-foot high skylights.

Our baking operations moved from Smithfield to Spitalfields in 2003 when we opened St. John Bread and Wine though we still sell our breads and other baked goods at St. John and at the occasional farmer’s market and food festival, details of which can be found on our news page as they occur.

There’s no doubt the building has charm and ambience, qualities money can’t buy, and the service is not far behind.  There is a pleasing old-fashioned touch to the quality of the linen, the crisply starched aprons, the solid tableware.  St John revels in its slightly retro image, which from my point of view was no bad thing – particularly when you see another guest eating a dozen Madeleines, baked freshly in 15 minutes.  When did you last see those on a London menu?

I really can’t remember what my friend ate, though I did have the signature roast bone marrow with parsley salad and sea salt (almost de rigeur for a first visit), followed by roast pigeon.  You couldn’t pick fault with either dish. By London standards, value was pretty reasonable, and we went to our respective homes very happy people.  Warmly recommended!

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