"It's not much but it's ours"

Thursday, December 13, 2007


A few years ago, on a food website (Egullet, I think) Fergus Henderson agreed to do a Q&A session with the members.

I asked him why, at that time no one in the country was replicating what St John was doing. His answer was a slightly terse “you should probably ask them” but he did admit that there was more room in the market for his style of cooking and he was about to take advantage of it by opening St John Bread & Wine.

Move on about five years and that same question would seem very foolish indeed as there are now a plethora or restaurants, not only in London, but around the country, which have been spawned by what I call “The School of St John” many run by ex alum of the mother ship on St John St itself.

Not just Fergus though. I think a huge genuflection needs to be given by many of the chefs in these places to Mark Hix whose promulgation of cuisine a la Brit has been tireless and with Fergus’ influence has led to what I genuinely believe is the first wave of uniquely British restaurants.

Of course, when you have so many restaurants now cooking a certain style you are going to get hits ( Magdalene, Anchor & Hope, Hereford Rd) you are going to get misses (Arbutus) and you are going you going to get hit & miss (The Rivington Grill which seems to lurch between decent and dreadful on a daily basis)

I am delighted to say that MARKET in Camden is one of the good ones. In fact, it is one of the very good ones.

Opened recently by the ex chef of Medcalf’s in Exmouth Market, it sits amongst all those rather grim restaurants on Camden Parkway and was, when we arrived for our 8.30pm table, already packed with Christmas revellers.

Still, it is a small, pleasant room and we had a decent table away from a well behaved group out for a company dinner.

The menu with its recognisable typeface and paucity of description is both a reminder of St J and a welcome relief after meals in the good old US of Stateside where there are more descriptives than a Wilkie Collins novel.

It reads well too and as we sipped a glass of Proseco it took us a good ten minutes to make our choices.

To begin, HP went with a special of white pudding with a fried duck egg. What came was like no white pudding that I have ever tried. That’s not a bad thing as they are normally like the retarded sibling of their glistening black brothers, but this was excellent. More like a rillettes that had been formed into a sausage and fried. With the bright yellow yolk of the egg to dip it into, I was hard pressed to persuade HP to give me a taste.

My own starter of whitebait was as good example of the little fried beauties as you are likely to get. A small ramekin flowing over with small whole fish, floured and fried until crispy.

For my main course I wanted to have the Chicken & Ham Pie. The Christmas party, damn them, had ordered the last ones. A great shame as, when I saw them being brought out they looked like things which would have given Desperate Dan reason to pause.

Still, my own second choice of onglet was perfectly cooked and came with a suitably fiery aioli. My only concern is that the chips with it were already plated so they softened to a mush in the juices of the meat. HP thinks this is a good thing. I do not. You take your pick.

HP’s main course was the winner, a large double chop of Middlewhite on a small stew of vegetables and puy lentils. Fabulous meat with a slab of tasty fat and crisp, crunchy crackling.

The side order of chips he ordered came in a bowl and showed how good they could be when not allowed to soak.

Both dishes went well with a Tempus Two Tempranillo which was one of the only wines I found vaguely palatable from my recent-ish visit to The Hunter Valley. It was £17.50 on a small but well priced list of mainly New World wines.

For pudding, HP selection was as always, ice cream. A decent chocolate and a small scoop of cinnamon which he asked if he could taste from the specials menu. It was ice cream what else can I say?

My choice was better. Spotted Dick, that most frightening of puddings for those who remember school in the 70’s. Here though, it was, as indeed was everything else, very well made, surprisingly un cannon ball like and served with an exemplary custard.

Both the service and the kitchen seemed to be working with calm efficiency despite the fact that most tables were occupied and they deserved the 12.5% service they added to the bill to bring it to £74.

Now, given some of my recent travel destinations, £74 is the equivalent of a week’s hotel and food. But, for London and for cooking of this quality, I represents pretty good value.

It would seem, given the arrival of places like Market, that my question to Fergus should not have been “why?” more like “when?” It was, it appears just a matter of time.

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