St John Bread and Wine – Spitalfields

I’ve been putting off writing about St John Bread and Wine because of the absolute massive task it has inevitably become.

It was my friend Martin’s birthday. He’s a foodie, works in the business and has an affinity for St John. I don’t blame him. If you want an authentic, consistent and all-together memorable meal, you need look nowhere else than Fergus Henderson. The last time I was at St John-proper, I had one of the best dining experiences of my life (followed by the most epic food coma I’ve ever experienced).

St John Bread and Wine is the Farringdon restaurant’s little brother. It features more attractively priced small plates than the bigger main dishes than St John-proper. And because it’s in Shoreditch, for entertainment, we were treated to the likes of ridiculous hipsters wearing completely inappropriate Lady Gaga-inspired underwear as outerwear clothes:

With a party of 8, we were able to sample nearly every dish on the menu (save for the Blood cake and Duck Egg which was sold out. Kang of London Eater-fame, however, was luckily enough to try it, which you can read about here). The menu changes daily, but they have some favourites I’ve seen crop up on other reviews.

We started off with the Cured Duck and Chickweed, an excellent dish of moreish shreds of meat with a light mustard sauce.

The Braised Veal Shoulder with Chard, a Quail’s Egg and Boiled Potatoes with Green Sauce was a surprising delight. I love veal, and I was expecting it to be the main driving force behind the plate. It wasn’t. Instead, it was the combination of lightly-salted potatoes with an excellent rich sauce that made it.  This ended up being on of my favourites of the meal.

The Middlewhite Faggot with Peas was also a winner.  I’d never had Faggot before, but St John is one of those places that you just have to trust to deliver something delicious even if it’s not the type of food you’re used to eating every day. Made from meat off-cuts and offal (otherwise known as the ‘icky bits), this meatball of sorts was rich and glorious. There is usually some incarnation of this dish on the menu every week, and I suggest that even the squeamish give it a go. It really is fantastic.

The Foie Gras and Duck Liver Toast was a slight disappointment after getting off to such a good start. While St John is deservedly famed for their delicious bread, the spread on top completely overshadowed it. A bit too salty for the palette, it tasted like any other pate I’ve had. Unfortunately, nothing special here.

The Pig’s head and Carrots was the other disappointment of the afternoon. I spent nearly the entire meal wondering what the presentation of this dish would be. More like a stew than anything else, I’d say it was just generally unremarkable. There were few defining characteristics from the pork itself to the vegetables and stock that accompanied it.

The Pigeon and Beetroot was one I insisted upon getting. I’ve had St John pigeon before, and again, it didn’t disappoint.  There’s something about a gamy bird and the sweetness of beetroot that will always make the senses tingle.

A huge surprise, and fantastic way to end the main part was the Roast Chicken. I usually stay away from chicken on menus. It’s too conventional,too boring, but this is something I’d gladly get again. Served with caramelised onion and a rich white sauce I can’t quite remember the name of, it was perfectly tender and balanced dish.

Desserts were a hit and miss affair for me.  We split between us several of them, including the Sticky Toffee Pudding.  This was stated on the menu as ‘For two’, but realistically it was large enough for four people each to have a healthy portion.  Stuffed with nuts and drizzled with a rich caramel sauce, this was a very rich dessert. I could immediately feel the food coma start to settle in.

The food coma didn’t stop me from trying the other desserts though, including the Berry Tart with Vanilla Ice-cream and the famed Eccles Cake & Lancashire Cheese. Both of these were a miss for me.  A little too dry for my taste.

The Dark Chocolate Torte with Strawberries and Ice Cream was, I believe, flourless – something I’ve never been a fan of. Even though you could consider me a chocolate freak, flourless dark chocolate is just too much. I think it was for everyone, because out of all the desserts, this one was left half-eaten.

The only real downside to the meal, apart from a couple ‘miss’ menu items was the service.  It was S-L-O-W.  they were busy, sure – but I saw absolutely no sense of urgency or politeness from our server.  On the contrary, he looked as if he would rather be anywhere else than at work.  It took ages to flag him down even to just get drinks at the beginning of the meal. The food was slow to come out (understandably not his fault), but he made no attempt to give us any status updates on certain dishes when we enquired after – in some cases – a half hour of waiting.  I’m hoping it was an off day, and the food more than makes up for it, but I would advise against going during a rush or if you’re in a hurry.

Overall though, St John Bread and Wine is a marvelous addition to the St John family, and I would happily return. For 8 of us, with wine and service (though admittedly not all of us were drinking), it was just over £40 a head – a brilliant bargain for all we ate.

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  1. I’ve been there a few times for breakfast (as I work round the corner), which have been excellent, but only once for lunch – now I want to go again :)

    If you go back then make sure you get a bag of madeleines to take away – they’re rather good and cooked fresh, so you can eat them when they’re at your choice of optimal chewiness.

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