STJOHN BREAD AND WINE: RETURN OF THE MAJ
One of the last times I visited St John Bread & Wine I had a bowl of Quail Heads. That's not a typo. They weren't Quails or Quail Eggs or even Quail Legs, they were the heads of little Quails. There'd obviously been a little wager in the kitchen to see who would be dumb enough to pay for bin fodder. Hermano, take one step forward.
What were they like ? Well, apart from the off-putting rictus grin of their little heads, they'd been roasted so that they had a satisfying crunch. My Vegetarian dining companion couldn’t bear to watch.
StJB&W was a couple of minutes from where I worked so became a de facto canteen for me. When I changed jobs I couldn't visit for lunch and the evening crowds mitigated against a walk-in which is how I used the place. Even so I still used to pop in from time to time for their great Ice Cream or an Espresso and Vieille Prune.
My original intention had been to try upstairs at John Torode's new place The Luxe which HS blogged about recently. The upstairs restaurant still wasn't open and downstairs had appeared to have morphed into a rather grim looking bar. Which is where StJB&W came to my rescue. It was fully booked for the evening - as I suspect it usually is - but I must have been wearing my pathetic face as the very kind FOH took pity on me and found me a table.
The St John style of food hasn't changed much, even going way back to a DH visit to Fergus Henderson's first gaff above the French House in Soho. One or two decent ingredients cooked simply and served sans any significant garnish is the MO and given the restaurants popularity there really isn’t any reason to change things.
A meal always starts with a big pile of their great bread and before I realised it I’d scarfed down two pieces. The other two proved useful in mopping up the juices of my starter, a Blood Cake, which was an unctuous slab of Black Pudding. It was slathered with a bacon-studded compote of prunes.
Unfortunately, the Grouse I had my eye on for my main course wasn’t ready but I enjoyed a whole Plaice. For me, the pleasure in eating all of a fish lie not so much in the flesh but in winkling out all the tasty gelatinous nuggets in the head in a similar way that demolishing a Chicken carcass is more satisfying than eating slices of breast.
For me, puddings have always been the highlight of a StJ meal. My Honey Roasted Figs, Spiced Ice Cream and Shortbread had echoes of a recent dessert at Seven Park Place. Not as refined maybe but just as enjoyable.
Tiredness precluded launching into the digestif list but I scored a dozen Madeleines to take away and very nice they were too with a cup of tea.
I shall still pay The Luxe a visit when they finally open their restaurant but they’re going to have to be pretty good to compete with StJB&W. My guess is that they may well be relegated to the role of Plan B for people who can’t get in the place over the road. Let’s hope they’re not too disappointed.