Review: Nose to Tail Eating at St John, Smithfield

Perhaps one of the least pretentious Michelin-starred restaurants in London (to the point we were debating whether it had one – it does), the slightly shabbier decor both inside and out means it’s all about the food at St John. Very industrial, and I was worried as the bar area was actually cold as we walked through, but thankfully the dining room was warm and a little comfier.

 photo St John_zpst2dxrxgc.jpgWe started with some great bread (though the butter was a tad too cold – perhaps it has also spent some time in the bar area!) and ordered what turned out to be a couple of glasses of some very nice red. The menu also wasn’t what I was expecting – I was expecting meat, and a lot of it, but there was also a fairly decent balance of fish and veg on there too. Not a huge amount of choice, and some options just far enough out there to really excite me. I’m the type of person to order the offal, the rabbit, the thing that you have to google, and I’d been looking forward to this meal since booking a few months prior.

And it was worth the wait. Again, there was a complete lack of pretentiousness. No showy-off plating of ingredients. Nothing cooked in a particularly fancy way. Just excellent quality ingredients, cooked quite right, paired with exactly the right flavours, and in properly big portions to boot.

 photo St John Restaurant Review 2_zps51eir7gr.jpgI ordered what is perhaps considered to be their signature dish as my starter. I’d been day-dreaming about it since booking and was honestly waking up in sweats in case it wasn’t on the menu (daily menus are published at 5pm, so you won’t know what you’re getting when you book). Fortunately for me, and possibly the sanity of those around me, it was very much on there. Roast bone marrow served with a parsley and caper salad was served undeniably simply, with some more excellent bread grilled to a dry yet not burnt toast. It was very much a get-stuck-in type dish, I was pushing and scraping the marrow out onto toast, and adding salad and seasoning as I saw fit. I was in a greasy mess by the end of it (not a first date dish) but a very happy greasy mess. The bone marrow was rich and comforting, the salad sharp and cutting through it exactly right.

 photo St John Restaurant Review 1_zpsb1ye6gfb.jpgMy husband went slightly more refined with a Pork Cheek and Dandelion Salad. Crispy and crunchy hunks of meat, and really pepperly leaves in a dressing strong with mustard. It wasn’t a dish for the faint-hearted and I thought the dressing was perhaps a tad over-powdering, but it was 100% something I’d eat a whole plate of.

Once I saw the main courses on offer they was never any doubt in what I was ordered. I’ve loved faggots since childhood and find they near impossible to get hold of in London, so I said yes please and thank you to Kid Faggots with Mash and Onion Gravy. Greens on the side, because I needed to reassure myself I had eaten at least one of my five-a-day during the meal. These combined of a mixture of heart, kidneys and liver all wrapped in caul fat. I felt the outside could have done with some crisping up, but it was a heart, delicious plateful that I didn’t want to end. The inside of the faggots was nicely textured – certainly not mush, and you could just about pick out the differing tastes and textures of the different elements. And despite it’s wishy-washy appearance, the sauce accompanying the onions was packed full of flavour. Not that you need a sauce, because that mash was certainly creamy and buttery enough to hold it’s own! Greens were also spectacular, buttery and a little bitter. Not necessary, but given there’s no additional veg on the plate they did add some balance.

 photo St John Restaurant Review 5_zpsjtzbucbg.jpg photo St John Restaurant Review 4_zpstxjnl391.jpg photo St John Restaurant Review 3_zpskrigyy7j.jpgW went for a Saddle of Pork dish with Red Cabbage, and this is the reason why I’ve not been able to buy pork since. It was quite honestly the best tasting bit of pig I’ve had the fortune to try, and no Sunday Roast will ever be the same again. Was it fancy? Certainly not. But it was damn tasty. As we ate they sold out of the salad cut, so moved on to serving the same dish but with another cut of pork. Nose to tail eating at it’s finest.

Though talking about the sides, I’m still a little bitter I couldn’t talk my husband into sharing the Welsh Rarebit with me. Next time.

 photo St John Restaurant Review 8_zpsddv2rngo.jpg photo St John Restaurant Review 7_zpse4mq2yeh.jpgTo be fair to him, I was struggling at this point. As was he – to the point he looked slightly panicked when they surprising him with a birthday treat of some (absolutely wonderful) ginger ice-cream. I stole a good few spoonfuls as it went perfectly with my Ginger Loaf with Butterscotch Sauce (also served with vanilla ice-cream, but the ginger was better). Surprisingly this wasn’t over-sweet, and was pretty much everything I always hope a Sticky Toffee Pudding would be…Eccles Cake with Cheese was also a good choice, and we rolled out of the restaurant too very full, very happy people.

Have you ever visited St John? Where’s the best meal you’ve had of 2019 so far?