St. John, Smithfield

February 21, 2008

Roast bone marrow and parsley salad

In honour of James getting measurably older we set out for lunch at one of Britain’s finest eating establishments – St. John. Fergus Henderson, the proprietor, made ‘nose-to-tail’ eating fashionable in this country – that is using the whole animal, not just the ‘best’ bits. And the building is a former smokehouse in the East End, pretty much as they found it – they’ve just painted it white.

I arrived at Smithfield on time, but James was late because of work. The lovely maitre d’ made sure I was supplied with water and aperitifs and was charming – I ordered a glass of what was basically house white and he praised me for my good taste! Maybe it was because I could pronounce ‘viognier’ and not many antipodean types can…

The picture above is the restaurant’s signature dish – very dramatic indeed! It looks like some sort of Gaudi-ish apartment block on a plate, with parsley. You even get a special implement to eat it with – stabby on one end, scoopy on the other. Stab, scoop onto toast (sourdough from St. JOHN bakery), add yummy grey sea salt from specially provided mound on plate, parsley on top, eat. Ah yummy. Very comforting on a coldish-but-not nearly-as-cold-as-it-should-be-at-this-time-of-year’s day.

So that was our starter, then we went on to mains – James ordered lambs’ tongues with butterbeans and anchovy, I ended up with smoked eel, beetroot and horseradish due to lack of pigs’ cheeks (I hope you’re not feeling squeamish at this point). My eel was perfectly smoked and complemented by the sweetness of the beetroot and the heat of horseradish cream. James’ little lambs tongues looked very cute with their giant butterbean companions and the textures worked well together. After extensive excavation he still failed to locate the anchovies, but perhaps they had melted in to something. The salad we chose as a side dish was much more heavily dressed than I’m used to, but I suspect that’s something to do with this being a British restaurant. The side dishes, by the way, were hilarious – a choice of spring greens, potatoes, salad, Welsh rarebit, or cheese. Cheese! Or cheese on toast! As a side dish – now that’s my kind of menu!

And how was it? – well it was – nice. Not spectacular, but that wouldn’t be British would it? We had a rather pleasant time, with one criticism – our waitress quickly figured out that we weren’t there on anyone’s expense account and wasn’t interested in us. She did, however, know what a macchiato was – yay!

And this is the thing – it made us remember those great restaurant meals down under in our heady, nearly forgotten, pre-mortgage days – our many many jaunts to the Burdekin dining room, our super top lunch at Cicada (where I discovered I was eating unfledged pigeon and finished it anyway because it was so delicious), dinner at Cleopatra where a simple green salad was a revelation (gawd is there any way to write about food without sounding like an old tosser?), dinner at Vulcan’s (mmm slow cooking and chequerboard icecream) and so on and so on. What splendid value for money St. John was – we got 20 meals for the price of one!



  1. Happy Birthday to James!

    The Fergus Henderson cookbooks are funny (laughter) to read. An indulgence to buy since offal is not my favourite of foods.

    I like your accounting style.

  2. He is a funny man.I nearly did buy same when we first arrived, but stopped when I saw a recipe that said something like ‘get 5 litres of pig’s blood from your butcher…’

    I like this line from the website – ‘At eleven o’clock you have woken up and got in touch with your extremeties, spittle has begun to flow. It’s time for Elevenses.’

  3. That would have to be the most interesting/strange/dramatic start to a meal I have ever seen! I’m glad it was all delicious. Certainly an adventure. It reminds me of when I cooked tripe for Jim for his 40th and brought it to the table from the oven, with the lighted candles stuck into the browned mashed potato on top. Perhaps James comes by his adventurous eating honestly.

  4. Tripe birthday cake! Fabulous!

    When I was anorexic my mother made me a birthday cake from a whole cauliflower with carrot and other colourful vegetables stuck in it for decoration – I was so happy!

  5. The 5 litres of blood, reminded me of “Buffy- the vampire slayer”…you know, how Angel wouldn’t kill anymore, so would have to get his blood as take out from the abattoir/butcher. What a thing to clog your brain with!

  6. A cauliflower b’day cake! That really takes out first prize!

    For Jim’s 40th, Rick and James made the fireworks for a display on the pond wall that we watched from the verandah. Kids aren’t allowed to do that anymore, I guess. Weird to think that James is now a year older than Jim was then. . . .

  7. Nada – urgh.

    Kathy – over here you can blow whole limbs off with impunity! I’m so glad they haven’t banned fireworks – very civilised.

  8. Happy Birthday James 🙂

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