3 May 2016

St John Bar & Restaurant, Smithfields

St John Bar & Restaurant is a bit of a holy grail. A 'whitewashed ex-smokehouse where Fergus Henderson pioneered the resurgent interest in offal dishes', you'll find it on the edges of Smithfields Market. The ideal place to source the ingredients for the nose-to-tail cooking you'll find on the ever-changing menu. They release the menu an hour or so before each service so you'll never be sure what you'll be offered but I think this is all part of the charm. No prior planning permitted.

Our table was for 9.15 on a Saturday night and, as you can imagine from a Michelin starred restaurant, it was super bustling with diners in for the long haul. That's not to say the service isn't efficient, the all-in-white wait staff are attentive for the most part but ours was definitely having a bad day - no smiles, no explanations and a lot of stalking around the room.

The no frills restaurant looks stark and functional on Google images but at night, it's almost cosy with the lights down low and tables tucked around the walls. The couple across from us barely exchanged two words all evening, keeping their noses in that day's paper and its crossword - well-seasoned St John goers, for sure.

But enough about that, onto the food. For some inexplicable reason (which may or may not be down to the cheese and champagne we'd consumed a few hours earlier), we decided to stick to the smaller plates rather than dive into the larger dishes. The diners around us who did order them were served vast plates of food, so definitely a place to come to sate your appetite. Instead, we started off with the roasted bone marrow and toast with parsley salad. Four enormous bones arrived and we bent to the task, eking out the rich and gooey marrow which was perfectly offset by the piquancy of the herbs.

Next to arrive was the brown crabmeat on toast. Forget pretty plates here, this place is all about the hearty and letting nothing go to waste. The sweet meat was slathered thickly onto sourdough, seasoned and squeezed with lemon and brought to the table. Another rich and flavoursome dish.

The other two dishes we chose divided opinion. Or mostly my opinion because I backed out of my promise to try the snails. Already shelled and nestled in the salad, I couldn't bring myself to try them this time so P got the spoils and devoured them all greedily. I instead focused on the octopus salad with a citrus dressing, and meaty chunks of tentacle. More my kind of thing.

The buzz was infectious, the flavours good and proper but I was a little disappointed by our waitress. But, with just a few small plates, we definitely didn't do St John complete justice and I think we'll have to give sister restaurant Bread & Wine a try.

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