Posted by: mikeydude | January 13, 2010

St John Bar & Restaurant Smithfield Review (7/10)

World Number 14?????? I think not….

I really don’t trust world restaurant rankings these days no matter how unbiased they claim to be. Nevertheless I don’t think I could be blamed for not expecting a less than phenomenal meal at a restaurant ranked at number 14 according to Pelligrino’s rankings? St John’s Restaurant is located in the Northeast part of central London a short walk away from London’s famous Smithfield Market. I decided to bring the Mrs here for dinner on a bitterly cold January night after her day of intense lectures in preparation for a tough exam. The place has just won a Michelin Star this year and I was really looking forward to sampling Fergus Henderson’s ‘Nose to Tail’ cooking after such disappointment at Hereford Road. My rants….

I liked the old school white styling of the exterior. I also liked the layout of the place with the more laid back bar area as you walk in with the bakery in plain sight, and the more refined dining area located up some open plan steps. We were greeted warmly and taken to our seats against one of the walls. Interestingly almost the entire dining room is surrounded by coat knobs where you hang your garments, which I found most convenient as we both had so many layers to take off with temperatures below freezing outside!

The menu I quickly browsed on my phone beforehand. Nice selection of interesting items tonight. Recommendations from our waitress were well informed and polite and I was particularly keen on trying dishes that were unusual. For wine I chose a bottle of Riesling (one of my favourites) at a very reasonable £20. Here’s what I thought of the food.


Brown and white served with butter (chilled). I preferred the white, but both were pleasant with a thick doughy texture. Obviously I always prefer warmed bread but hey.

Starter #1: Pig’s Tongue with Radish

My first experience of eating tongue was steamed duck tongue during Dim Sum quite a few years ago. It wasn’t pleasant with its rubbery and chewy texture. The mere thought of what it was made me nauseous. My next experience was at a Korean restaurant in Singapore which consisted of very thinly sliced pig tongue (circular salami like) fried over a Korean barbecue. This time I loved the slightly chewy texture combined with the teriyaki like marinade and haven’t really hesitated to order again since. One of my side-quests in this blog is to encourage people to free their minds when it comes to eating. Obviously I would always steer well clear of various animal parts that some cultures seem to like; Tiger Penis in Japan as well as ‘chicklings’ in Phillipians I don’t think my stomach could muscle.

This tongue was boiled initially in salt water I think and then quick fried with radish and greens. The slow boiling process made the meat less tough and gave it a nice salty taste. It was also nice to have radish for the first time in ages which gave the dish some contrast with its slightly sour flavour. I still prefer it Korean Barbeque style however due to the sweetness of the teriyaki. Still.. not bad.

Starter #2: Roasted Bone Marrow

After the disappointing version of this I had recently in London Bridge’s Magdalen I must admit some degree of pessimism with ordering this dish. How wrong I was to doubt the masters of bone marrow. This was absolutely delicious if you didn’t think about your coronaries. Four piping hot sections of roasted bone marrow served with brown toast and parsley salad. You are armed with a metal scoop which you use to extract the bone marrow onto your toast which can be a rather messy affair if you’re not careful! Marrow tastes very fragrant, fatty, salty, and a bit beefy. These are all fantastic flavours which went excellently with the dryness of the toast which gave structure. Mmmmm…. this deserves special praise.

Mains #1: Wild Duck Breasts

It annoys me that I’ve forgotten the name of this type of wild duck (not mallard). In any case I had never heard of it so wanted to give it a try. I often love to eat wild duck because of its gamey richness which is so unique and because they are usually smaller than the usual farmed duck, the meat is more tender and juicy. In game birds I find that it’s always the breast that is most delicious to eat (contrast with chicken where the leg is). This duck was probably lightly fried and finished in the oven. It was perfectly cooked and its strong powerful gamey flavours were delicious. The cabbage that is classically served with duck was fine. Good cooking but without the wow factor.

Venison Offal & Swede Mash

I must really apologise for the quality of this picture. I think the Riesling was starting to make my hand a bit shakey! In any case you can make out that the offal came in the form of kidney and liver of venison served with a swede mash. The meat was pan-fried I think which drew out some excellent flavours. The last time I had venison kidney (and first time in fact!) was at the Crown in Newport, where I found the taste too powerful and ‘cattley’. On this occasion the kidney taste was more subtle which was welcoming. It was nonetheless unique in its taste although not in the sense that it leaves me wanting more. The liver was better; cooked to medium and containing powerful livery flavours which were tamed down by the sweet swede mash. Another well accomplished dish, but doesn’t show off any mastery cookery.

Sprout Tops

The Mrs wanted to have some greens and so we ordered a portion. They essentially tasted of stir-fried cabbage.

Dessert #1: Clementine Trifle

After long decision making by the Boss, she opted for clementine trifle to wrap up her evening. It was topped with some kind of crunchy ‘cereal’ like flakes which added a great crunch and added sweetness to this pudding. It also had a most strange presentation of cream oozing out the top of the pot. Interesting. Anyway it was very good; the sweet creamy layer with the slightly sour clementines at the bottom actually was vastly uplifted by the crunchy cereal flakes. This kind of ‘out of the circle’ designs of dishes was what I was looking for when coming here. Good attempt.

Dessert #2: Buttermilk & Shortbread with Prunes

The buttermilk pudding was deliciously smooth and yet not overwhelmingly sweet. I liked it very much and the housemade shortbread was also of very high quality. The prunes acted as the middleman in terms of texture and combined well with the buttermilk. Not quite as ‘unique’ as the trifle, but still a great attempt at a classic dessert.

So with that we ended our experience of St John. With that I must say that the only dish to have really stood out was the roast bone marrow. All the other dishes were just solid cooking with no real flair. I thought that’s what the Michelin Inspectors were looking for. I’m sure that many of my readers could boast that their nans made the best roast potatoes. In other words I can’t praise St John enough for cooking decent food. I just question whether ‘decent’ is good enough for both Michelin Stars and being amongst the ‘World Top 50’.

The total cost came to £85 approx including my Riesling and service charge. It therefore makes great value for money. Compare this to Magdalen which was £70 with no wine and only 2 courses each.


St. JOHN Bar & Restaurant Smithfield
26 St John Street

Tel: 020 7251 0848

Opening Hours:

Lunch Mon – Fri: 12:00 – 15:00
Supper Mon – Sat: 18:00 – 23:00
(booking advised)


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