Saturday, May 25, 2013

St. John

Before I went to London, I had heard about another restaurant that sounded interesting.  It was a little off the beaten path, but it wasn't that heard to get to.  The restaurant, St. John, is located in an old smokehouse and is a truly English restaurant that does seasonal, nose-to-tail cooking.  Located in an old smokehouse near the Smithfield Market, a centuries old meat market, it really reminds me of a farm building despite being located in a very densely populated area.  The front of St, John looks like a small shop that takes (or does) deliveries.  With a large freight door on the left and a smaller door that might be assumed to be the entrance on the right.  It might be assumed to be the entrance but it would be assumed wrongly.  The door on the right is actually for the restaurant offices.  The big freight entrance is actually the proper entrance.  It is not however, a freight entrance.  There are a few tables in the room and as you walk further back, you walk into the bar and bakery which has a large skylight.  All of this area is painted white and has little design.  The main dining area to St. John is actually up a flight of stairs located in the bar and bakery.  It is a circuitous route to get to the host's station but it is right inside the entrance at the top of the stairs and I was seated immediately upon announcing myself.  The main dining area is also very white with wooden chairs and white tablecloth covered tables with white paper on top of that.  The kitchen was in one corner and looked relatively small.  I mentioned that St. John does nose to tail cooking.  Having looked at the menu frequently before I arrived, I saw that the menu changed frequently and it could at times be a little challenging.  Looking at the menu before I ordered, I saw that it was going to be a little challenging simply because there were several things on the menu that I didn't know.  I asked the waiter (who was also in white) to explain a few things and while he did, he was a bit snarky about it.  The waiter actually reminded me a bit of Will Ferrell.  While I did appreciate the help, I didn't appreciate the sarcasm.  After my questions were answered, I made my order and tried to get past the waiter's attitude.

For my appetizer, I ordered the Roast Bone Marrow with Parsley Salad.  I have had marrow before and have really enjoyed it.  In normal circumstances, you are given a small fork to remove the marrow from the bone and it is normally spread on some bread which is frequently toasted.  While I am certain that I would have enjoyed this in the same way, the server was pretty specific as to how I should eat it.  It was similar to how I would have normally eaten it but there were some differences.  I was to spread the marrow onto the the toasted country bread that was served with it.  Sprinkle it with some wet salt that was served on the side, and top it with the parsley salad.  With four bones (with a lot of marrow in each), I actually had more marrow than I had salad to eat it with but it was all good.  The marrow was very smooth and buttery, the salt added salt (obviously), and the salad was fresh, crisp, and very flavorful.  In addition to the parsley, the salad had thinly sliced onions, and was lightly coated with a vinaigrette.  It tasted very good and got me well on my way to getting over my feelings of insult by my waiter.

I don't remember exactly what the dish I ordered for my main course was called but I was surprised when it came out.  It may have been called a Breaded Veal Cutlet with Artichoke and Spinach but I recognized it as a Veal Schnitzel which is a favorite dish of mine at a German Deli near where I work.  A half a lemon came with it to add some acid and to allow it to pair better with the artichokes and spinach (with capers).  It was good as all fried foods are and the lemon provided a needed sour element to the dish.

I had heard of my dessert before I ordered it but I wasn't exactly sure what it was.  I remembered reading or hearing that it was very good so I decided to try it out despite what I thought was a rather non-descriptive name.  I ordered an Eton Mess.  While I say that it was non-descriptive, I found after I got it that it was only non-descriptive in that it was not obvious from the name what it was made of.  It very much looked like a mess, but a very good mess.  It was composed of whipped cream, meringues, and strawberries.  The dessert was apparently created at Eton College and is served during cricket matches between Eton and Winchester.  The mess seemed obvious from the appearance.  This was a very simple dessert (as everything else here was very simple), but like everything else, it is done very well. 

As far as the food was concerned, I really liked what I had.  The restaurant was very English in that the food was very simple but it was prepared very well.  I found the spartan and rustic design of the restaurant rather interesting and even though it was a little disconcerting to wander through the (well lit) building to find where I was to announce myself, it was kind of cool to see the building.  I liked my visit here despite being put off by the waiter but because of the attitude of the waiter, I am not sure that I would visit again.

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