Friday, 14 October 2011

St John Bread & Wine - for those in need of steadying

St John Bread  and Wine
Looking back through my posts, I'm struck by how much St John (in the form of Fergus Henderson rather than the saint) has informed my thinking and tastes over the years, and continues to do so.  Yet I've never written about my favourite of the three St John restaurants, St John Bread and Wine.  Having eaten several perfect lunches there recently, now is the time for me to rectify this glaring omission. 

This monastically plain square room prepares you for the straightforward food you can expect to eat.  It provides "everything you want and nothing you don't need", which is what Fergus Henderson is all about.  He sees good food and drink as steadying and uplifting, and that's just how I feel when I've eaten there.  You will not find over-elaboration or gimmickry at his restaurants.  He is, however, tireless in his pursuit of the best.  No matter how plain the dish set before you, and some are very plain indeed, it will be the best it can possibly be.  It may be a stunningy fresh sea bass or mackerel, brought to the table whole, or rich brown crabmeat on toast with a spoonful of mayonnaise and half a lemon.  That's not to say you won't get some beautiful plates of food too.  In spring you may be offered a plate of fresh peas, pea shoots and Ticklemore cheese, a drift of purple pea flowers making it look positively pretty, but everything on the plate contributes to the savour of the dish.

British food is St John's thing.  Meat dishes can be hearty, from a simple Gloucester Old Spot pork chop to Boiled Beef and Dumplings, or as delicate as a plate of Roast Quail.  At Bread and Wine you'll find a lot of the food on the menu is offered as small plates so it's a good idea to order a few of these to really get a taste of what the place is about.  Dishes like Cold Roast Beef on Dripping Toast, Bone Marrow with Parsley Salad, Hereford Snails and Oak Leaf Lettuce, Confit Pig Cheek and Dandelion, Kedgeree, Soft Roes on Toast.  Mains are substantial and often shared.

A few dishes have stood out recently: a salad of Potatoes dressed with mayonnaise, Spring Onion, Soft Boiled Duck Egg and Sorrel, a transcendent combination of Smoked Anchovies, soft boiled duck egg and crispy potato stacks and a deeply comforting dish of Oxtail Stew with Turnip Mash.  You will eat sublime versions of classic English puddings:  Bread pudding (or sometimes ginger cake) with butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream, Treacle Sponge and Custard, Summer Pudding, Crumbles such as Blueberry and Peach, the fruit changing with the seasons, and Brown Bread Ice Cream.

You can eat at St John Bread and Wine from Breakfast to Dinner.  Their bacon sandwich with home-made tomato ketchup is just the best start to the day you can have, but there is always porridge and prunes, granola, and gorgeous poached seasonal fruit with yogurt and honey served with toasted brioche too.  To fill that odd hour between 11.00 and lunch you can take an uplifting glass of Madeira wine and seedcake.  Lunch can be had well into the afternoon, until 4pm in fact, though be warned some dishes will be sold out.  There's barely a pause before dinner is served from 6pm.  There's quite an extensive wine list and a wide range of prices.  You can also buy wine, bread and some just-baked sweet things to take away with you.  Enjoy a great breakfast for £10 a head or lunch with a glass of wine for as little as £30 each, including service.  Dinner comes in at a shade more.  

Go, and you too will feel steadied and restored.  Just don't all go at once as, up to now, I've never had to book for lunch.

St John Bread and Wine
94-96 Commercial Street
London  E1 6LZ
Tel: 020 3301 8069