A BAG OF WOBBLY GOODNESS
Until about two years ago whenever anyone from outside the UK asked me to recommend a restaurant in London that was unlike anything they may have tried before or were unlikely to find outside the UK, I had only one answer. St John.
The austere room, the menu pleasingly bereft of explanation and the unapologetically French wines served in small beakers. There was no where like it.
A few years ago, during a Q&A on a website, I asked Fergus Henderson why no one had tried to replicate what he did. His answer was that he did not know, but he was replicating himself by opening St John Bread & Wine.
That’s all changed now, of course. The “school of St John” is now a fully recognised part of the UK food scene with direct descendants such as Magdalen, The Anchor & Hope and Great Queen St and those who pay homage to the groundbreaking work of Fergus on just about every gastro pub menu throughout the land.
Even on a recent trip to Australia, I visited Bistrode where just about everything from the food to the graphic design of the menu was an ‘homage” to St John.
With the proselytising of people like Anthony Bourdain and Thomas Keller “ nose to tail” eating has become a fully fledged cuisine in its own right and St John has been placed firmly on the map of all gastro tourists.
The slightly sad thing is that, in some ways, the original originator, has been left behind and recent meals at St John and St John Bread & Wine have been disappointing where as The Anchor & Hope and, particularly Magdalen have been exceptional. What did Wordsworth say? “The child is the father of the man”
So, when I received my invitation to the press launch of TROTTER GEAR, I will freely admit that I viewed the thing with a certain trepidation.
TROTTER GEAR is, apart from books, the first stab by Fergus at making a commercial gain out of the brand that is St John. At its most basic, it is a carton of stock. But, like all things St John, it has been quite some time in the gestation and the combination of Chicken stock, Pig’s Trotters, Onions, Carrots, Madiera, Leek, Thyme and Celery has been through innumerable revisions before Fergus was prepared to launch it on an unsuspecting world.
Judging by the dishes served up to us at today’s launch (all made with TROTTER GEAR) they have got it just about right. A dish of pork belly and prunes was thick and unctuous as was a dish of meaty snails with chickpeas served with slices of fried bread. Best of all was a pigeon & trotter pie which came with a crust which reminded me why I loved St John so much in the first place.
It’s a small scale launch starting at Selfridges in London and then rolling out to their other stores around the country before being offered to other retailers and at £4.50 a pop is definitely worth a punt instead of the thin, watery offerings of most supermarkets.
I can’t think of any other single restaurant in the UK that has a strong enough brand recognition to give its name to a food product. A chef, maybe, but no restaurant. So, whatever your view of St John’s place in the current restaurant scene, it is good to see that Fergus is still thinking that one step ahead of everybody else.