|St John Hotel 'Breakfast Buns'|
Forget about the glitzy opening of the new "chic and cool" 192 room W Hotel overlooking London's Leicester Square. The real news is the opening of Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver's 15 room St John Hotel right across the road, nestling on the edge of Chinatown. The rooms come in three sizes - Mini-Grand, Urban Hut and Post Supper - and a three bedroom rooftop suite. As you would expect from St John, the rooms are "designed to have everything the traveller needs, and nothing they do not", but they promise "with a touch of glamour". (See the links below for room rates and photographs).
The building used to house Manzi's fish restaurant with rooms, an OK kind of place as I recall but it was there for 60 years. The main thing I remember about it was the painted ceiling, which I believed celebrated its former incarnation as a bordello. Thankfully the artwork has gone. Living in London I'm unlikely to get to stay in the hotel but after popping in for breakfast this week I'm most definitely going to be spending time in the dining rooms. The style is recognisably St John, even down to the practical trademark coat-pegs all around the dining room. As always with St John, it's almost Quaker in its lack of frills.
I'd been hearing talk of "Justin's buns" for months. Justin Piers Gellatly is St John's brilliant baker. There was a "Viennese" influence. "Anchovies" were mentioned. There would be "savoury" buns to eat with champagne, and "sweet" ones for tea. The recipe was being "perfected". I was beginning to dream about buns. I tried in vain to fight my way past the harassed builders last week but finally I made it inside and my anticipation levels couldn't have been higher.
You won't find the ubiquitous buffet breakfast at St John Hotel. The menu is small but perfectly formed. There is Granola, Fruit Compote and yoghurt, Arbroath Smokie with Potato and Egg, Ham, eggs and fried bread, Devilled Kidneys and Mushrooms on Toast. The perfectly boiled eggs were served with excellent Anchovy Toast soldiers and we had good orange juice and excellent tea, though the espresso is not the best as yet. And there were my longed-for Buns - one butter bun, one spiced and one raisin - and boy were they worth the wait. I can confirm they are indeed bun-shaped and exquisite, but how to describe them. Served hot from the oven they have a texture somewhere between croissant and brioche, but with the weight of a bread. There is something quite 'lardy cake' about the texture, albeit a butter version. They are sticky, rich and buttery with subtle spicing and top quality fruit. Fortunately I was not breakfasting alone or I'm sure I would have polished off the lot, despite the size.
Tom Harris, former Sous-Chef at St John restaurant is in charge of the kitchen. I can't wait to try lunch. Then there's Tea (or champagne), for a "Little Bun Moment" - anchovy, prune, chocolate. Oh, and then there's Supper, and the Late Night menu served until 02.00. "From Table to Bed" indeed - maybe I will need a "Post Supper Room" after all.
1 Leicester Street
Off Leicester Square
London WC2H 7BL
UPDATE - The hotel and restaurant are no longer part of the St John group.