London Eating: St. John, Spitalfields

A foodie pursuit worth taking note of is most definitely one at Fergus Henderson’s place, St John. Known for his top to tail cooking, the simplistic restaurant, reminiscent of a smart school room is home to the finest of London offal.  The restaurant unsurprisingly boasts food a darn sight better then the average school and in much less strict surroundings.

The simple white interiors, dark wooden tables with a slick of industrial silver made for a comfortable enough experience for the duration of the meal but not so much that you want to linger to relax for the digestif period afterwards. A happy medium between the plush armchairs at Bibendum and the bum dumbing experience of a Wagamamas. A perfect lunchdate spot if you want an hour out of the office.

The Menu reads as a ABC of key ingredients with little to no clue about cooking style or presentation. That is where the excitement comes in. You have no idea when ordering the ‘Ox Heat and Celeriac’ if you are gonna get an aldente, pan-seared, Ox Heart might be served on a bed of beautifully julienned Celeriac sticks, or halved, grilled on a bed of celeriac puree. The simple menu is the beginning of the adventure. You just have to put your trust in the chef and trust that its going to be offally good.

The meals came on a serve whist its ready basis, getting plonked on the table one by one, embracing the mid-table sharing ethos. I am a fan of this technique because I feel it really gets people to engage with what they are eating. There is more to the meal then picking up a knife and fork and steadily chomping through a meal, one melange mouthful at a time without appreciation. It breaks with the pace and pattern of habit, and advocates thoughtful eating, so when the end of the meals comes, full tummies and tastebuds make peace and good food gets its recognition.

First plate that was wheeled out of the kitchen was the Mussels with Cider and Tarragon. They were juicy, plump and deliciously soft. Not a speck grit on sight. The sauce was light and fresh with a hint of sweetness from the Cider. The flecks of aniseed from the Tarragon were subtle and balanced and addition was the Celery was perfect to round off the flavours with a sweet earthiness. A Moule fan though I am, I am usually a happy bunny with a bucket of Loch Fyne’s best and a simple Bloody Mary or White Wine sauce. The cider base however is definitely to try in my kitchen. It makes a less rich base which is ideal if your are getting through a small bucket of them on your own. Perhaps it is time to experiment a little more with these sea creatures whilst they are still in season.

The second dish on the table was the with Ox Tongue served in flavorsome rich juices, flecked with crouton crumbs and served with a vibrant Green Sauce. The offal on the plate was rich and meaty on first hit to the palate with a vague hint of spongy liver texture. As the chomping began, the flavours of the meat developed and progressed to a more bitter taste. Paired with the Green sauce and flecked breadcrumbs the dish worked. However for me, with the Green Sauce aside, the dish didn’t snaffle the winning ticket.

The last hot plate of the day was Snails with Backfat and Spring Greens, the final flourish and best of the three. The Frenchman’s favourite came out swimming in an incredible rich sauce worthy of drowning in. Despite the slightly obstinate name it was a swoon worthy dish cooked simply. The sauce was perfect teamed with the Sourdough on the corner of the table, tentatively waiting to get a nose in the bowl.

For any skeptic or believer that hasn’t tried Fergus Henderson’s mastermind, go. You won’t be disappointed. He will convert you to offal. Even if you aren’t a fan after the main course by the time you get beyond pudding you will be. He will win you over with a pile of fresh homemade Madelines.

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