St John Smithfield

Gold Award

SquareMeal Review of St John Smithfield

Gold Award

This ground-breaking restaurant was opened by chef Fergus Henderson and his business partner Trevor Gulliver in a converted smokehouse near Smithfield Market in 1994. Henderson’s former career as an  architect informs a whitewashed space which would seem stark were it not for the passionate conviction of the kitchen that you can taste in every mouthful of the back-to-basics British cooking.

The nose-to-tail ethos of eating every available part of an animal is what the place is most famous for, best illustrated by the legendary bone marrow salad in which the fat takes the place of butter to spread over sourdough toast and sprinkle with some salt and parsley for a treat that is just as much about texture as taste. Henderson’s magic touch with offal is also demonstrated in a dish of ox liver in which the intense flavour makes you wonder why anyone bothers with the milder calf.

But there’s much else to enjoy here even if your idea of a square meal doesn’t involve consuming animal viscera, though Henderson always takes the route less travelled to surprise at every turn. Brown shrimp and white cabbage, all sweet shellfish and peppery veg, showcases an innate understanding of which flavours work well together. Guinea fowl pie comes with a crust so crisp with lard it can be picked up and eaten by itself. Game is another highlight but, though you’ll eat grouse finer than anywhere else here, come later in the season for the more arcane delights of teal or woodcock.  

To finish, nursery school puddings get an adults-only treatment in the likes of the rich-as-Croesus chocolate and prune trifle or bitter, steamed blood orange pudding, though if you’ve already wolfed down a plate of Welsh rarebit as a side order, you may find you have room for nothing more than half a dozen warm madeleines.

With a Michelin star and global fame (Henderson is opening in Los Angeles in 2020) to its name, St John’s prices aren’t as retro as its cooking, though really they’re only a couple of pounds more than what you’d pay in an upmarket gastropub. But as one reader advises: “treat yourself to lunch in the bar, it's surprisingly cheap”.

Good to know

Average Price
££££ - £30 - £49
Cool, Lively, Quirky, Traditional, Unique
Other Awards
One Michelin star, SquareMeal London Top 100
Food Occasions
Dinner, Lunch
Special Features
Vegetarian options
Birthdays, Celebrations, Special occasions
Food Hygiene Rating

About St John Smithfield

A iconic of London's restaurant scene, St John has been going strong for over 25 years now, and it remains just as essential to the capital as it was when it opened in 1994. Very little has changed here in a quarter of a century - Fergus Henderson may no longer be behind the stoves, but the brutalist wood and whitewash vibe remains ever present, alongside a menu full of the barebones, rustic British cooking that made the restaurant a hit in the first place. 

Before you climb the wrought iron steps up to the main dining room, you'll also find a smaller bakery area with some al fresco dining tables and the St John bar, which serves a curated lineup of wines (many of them St John wines) by the glass and the bottle. 

St John has always been about honouring ingredients by not wasting anything, and using them when they're at their seasonal best. The belief is also that what grows together goes together, and certain seasonal pairings will rear their heads every year. Offal is also a common occurance on the menu, with dishes like rabbit offal, dandelion and roast shallot, or pickled tripe and radishes for example. St John has accrued plenty of legendary dishes over the years - the roast bone marrow and parsley salad, the Welsh rarebit, the game and pigeon pies. That's not to mention the desserts, which are so hard to leave room for, but impossible not to order - iles flottante, Eccles cakes with Lancashire cheese and brown paper bags of baked-to-order madeleines. 

With an extensive wine list to match (with many excellent St John wines sourced from small suppliers in France) and smart, attentive service, it's no wonder St John remains packed to the rafters on most evenings.


Does St John Smithfield have a Michelin star?

St John Smithfield has one Michelin star.

Helpful? 0

Location for St John Smithfield

26 St John Street, Farringdon, London, EC1M 4AY

020 7251 0848


Opening Times

Mon 12:00-15:00
Tue 12:00-15:00
Wed 12:00-15:00
Thu 12:00-15:00
Fri 12:00-15:00
Sat 12:00-15:00
Sun 12:30-16:00
Mon 18:00-23:00
Tue 18:00-23:00
Wed 18:00-23:00
Thu 18:00-23:00
Fri 18:00-23:00
Sat 18:00-23:00
Sun Closed
Mon 11:00-23:00
Tue 11:00-23:00
Wed 11:00-23:00
Thu 11:00-23:00
Fri 11:00-23:00
Sat 11:00-23:00
Sun 12:00-17:00

Reviews of St John Smithfield

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21 Reviews 


02 August 2021   - Verified Diner
Food & Drink 5
Service 5
Atmosphere 5
Value 4.5
A fine evening

Great unfussy food, service and atmosphere.

Jacquelyn W

04 February 2018  
Food & Drink 4.5
Service 3.5
Atmosphere 3
Value 3
Hearty meal on a snowy day
I went to St. John craving for a hearty meal on a typical rainy and snowy day, and I got exactly that. Their bone marrow was delicious as usual, and the lamb broth was exactly what I needed on a cold wintry day.

Wendy M

10 July 2016  
Food & Drink 1
Service 3.5
Atmosphere 2.5
Value 1
Lacked Oomph and More!
From previous reviews I could hardly believe that I was eating at the same restaurant, lunchtime early July 2016. I had heard about Fergus Henderson and so had a reasonable idea of what to expect, or so I thought. To begin, pollock served cold was unexpected (hot would have been preferable and being such an economic and unexciting fish in itself, it needs to be made interesting). Well they tried, but completely over-powered the dish with garlic in the aioli, to the extent that just a couple of mouthfuls gave my taste buds a zap over-lasting welcome. I was quickly offered an alternative and asked for the Kohlrabi. Simple but now heading to the opposite extreme; rather plain - claimed to be "the most refreshing starter" with capers, but given the fact that I truly had no more than 6 small pieces on my plate, they struggled to lift this boring dish which could have been better had it been generously drenched with herbs and extra capers. Bread and butter was fairly good; my main was completely lack lustre. Hake (served on the bone but the tail end, so not the fleshiest piece) didn’t even smell that appetising when I cut into it, and lacked seasoning too. The white beans with sea purslane again were anything but flavourful, cabbage was fine. My partner was quite under-whelmed with cold egg, ham and beans starter, describing the rabbit as rather ‘monochrome’, but we ploughed on. One be-spectacled staff member was an utter delight and had it not been for him and some of his colleagues, then the temptation may have been to ‘cut and run’ settling for starters and drinks. To finish we ordered Madeleines, having watched a plate waft by, which were cooked whilst you wait, so these just had to be good, didn’t they? To my great relief they were, but all too late to even approach redemption during a highly disappointing experience. Wine except for the blanc de blanc does not deserve mention. Not a vastly expensive meal overall, but £130 for two, mid-week lunch for the quality of ingredients and sub-standard dishes, the meal seemed exorbitant. I left over 50% of my main course - understandably we were now pariah’s to the staff, but one brave soul removed my plate in silence - I refrained from comment too, having given gentle feedback on my starter. I’d rather spend about the same money for food with real punchy flavours like Eric Chavot or Barra Fina. Nothing wrong with rustic style, simple, low-cost ingredients prepared with care, but this missed on many levels for all courses except one, all of which were rather one-dimensional. Just a bad day at the office, or does this place sometimes slip to depths that most restaurants would never ever want to reach?

Alex G

03 September 2015  
Food & Drink 5
Service 4
Atmosphere 3.5
Value 2.5
Carnivore carnival
If meat is your thing, you have intrepidity and lack squeamishness, then there are few better places than St John. That the restaurant has endured for well over a decade with very few tweaks to the format is testament to its success. The formula is very simple: a large white-washed room (admittedly somewhat akin to a canteen), serving high-quality British produce, but specialising in intestines and the like. On the downside, St John is not cheap and I would certainly feel somewhat short-changed had I been seated on one of the communal benches. At these prices, a bit of intimacy is not too much to ask. Fortuitously, my comrade and I enjoyed a table to the side of the room on a recent weekday evening visit. The place quickly filled up, but service remained friendly and efficient throughout. The excitement for me of dining at St. John is the opportunity to try things one might not normally. By way of example, I commenced with pickled tripe (i.e. animal stomach), while my comrade opted for the roast bone marrow. Other potential options included kidneys, grilled ox heart or lambs’ tongues. Our two dishes were presented well, tasted excellent and left us well-sated for the mains. It being grouse season, we both partook. Notwithstanding the potential eye-watering price of £38/grouse, the dish itself was prepared to perfection – juicy, rare and easy to carve – a notable feat, given this is a far from simple task. The bread sauce was a lovely foil and the astringency of the accompanying greens also helped balance the dish. After these two successes, there was still room for dessert and again our two choices (trifle and bread & butter pudding) were executed successfully. The wine list too deserves praise, full of good quality bottles, even if there is perhaps an unhealthy dependency on France. We enjoyed an Alsatian white followed by a decent red from the Languedoc. St John is definitely an experience – even if not an obviously cheap one.

Avril G

29 April 2014  
Food & Drink 5
Service 5
Atmosphere 5
Value 5
Lovely restaurant, really nice food

kofi A

17 May 2013  
Food & Drink 4
Service 3
Atmosphere 4
Value 4
Took some clients to St John's for lunch and, having consciously avoided the place for over a decade, was pleasantly surprised. The food was unfussy, unpretentious and, most important, very tasty. The decor is a very claming all white. Nothing flashy at all. Tables are appropriately spaced and service was efficient. The food was very good and, as I understand that the menu changes daily, I will not go into any detail as to what we had. A thoroughly enjoyable experience at a reasonable price (including wine). I will be returning.

Dave B

19 July 2011  
Food & Drink 2.5
Service 3.5
Atmosphere 3
Value 1.5
We went to St John the other week and it was decidedly average. We had the sole and roast chicken (it was Sunday lunch). The food was underwhelming and what you would have expected at your local gastropub – sole OK but flabby and soggy, the chicken boring and bland. Lovely service though, and the wine list had some good choices at reasonable prices. Overall however, the pricing was way out of line for the quality and skill of the cooking. Very hard to believe St John has a Michelin star. I won't be going back.

gerald B

14 June 2011  
Food & Drink 5
Service 4
Atmosphere 3.5
Value 4.5
Eaten at St John 3 times in the last 18m. Our most recent visit was April 11, having not eaten there since early 2010 (always booked up). Its pretty much unchanged, and every bit as good, with its focus on simple high quality English dishes, especially the “unpopular cuts”. The main white walled dining room is rather stark and cold, especially with its warehouse style lighting – but perfect abattoir décor ! OK when busy, but it must be very “cold” if there are times when the restaurant is quiet. The waitress and serving staff were very professional and knowledgeable, able to properly answer questions about the menu. However, not particularly friendly or charming. They coped very well with the very busy restaurant. We love the simple high quality, very tasty and very earthy style of the dishes (eg fantastic pigeon), unusual off-cut and offal dishes (eg chitterlings). Our venison offal was a little uninspiring; mainly liver. However, on a previous visit, it would have been difficult for the very gamey grouse to have been any more “red”, which might not be to everyone’s taste. The menu really focusses on the gutsy stronger tasting cuts and dishes. We had absolutely delicious trifle and apple cake for dessert. Possibly the best restaurant trifle I've eaten – Following on from Gary Rhodes great achievement 10+ yrs ago with Shepherds Pie ? We liked the wine list, with its unusual bias to well selected regional French. Great value at circa £75 for 2 for 2 courses inc service ex all drinks. Overall, a great restaurant, with professional staff serving very tasty and sometimes very unusual dishes. Long may it continue.

Peter B

31 May 2011  
Food & Drink 2
Service 1
Atmosphere 1
Value 0.5
A sustained exercise in sleight of hand . Indifferent and unpleasant staff serve mediocre food to posers whose main concern is to see them selves reflected in the eyes of other narcissists…avoid.

David Joseph C

28 May 2011  
Food & Drink 4.5
Service 4.5
Atmosphere 4
Value 4.5
So much has been written about St. John Restaurant, I feel I’m only adding to the love letter pile. The humble little cave in Clerkenwell serving overt British organs and cut-offs has become cult. A holy shrine. True believers, once they’ve marked off Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, come here. Fergus Henderson’s straightforward combinations have drawn plaudits from across the globe. AA Gill commented that: “I have few regrets as a restaurant critic, but one is that I didn’t give Fergus Henderson a better review when he opened in Clerkenwell years ago.” And Anthony Bourdain – in his Introduction to Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking, says: “After eating the Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad at St. John, I declared it my always and forever choice for ‘Death Row Meal’, the last meal I’d choose to put in my mouth before they turned up the juice.” And now I pen where so many have before me, proclaiming the glories of Henderson and the Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad. Assuming you’ve eaten at St. John, please, sing along with me. Unfussy presentation, stripped simplicity of Carnivorousness affection. The culinary connection you share with the beast on your plate. The enthusiastic licking of lips. The pilgrimage complete. St. John is not just a must-try on the London culinary circuit. It summons grumbling bellies from all corners of the globe. It has become a reference point: for simplicity executed, its A-Z of nose-to-tail-eating, and frankly if you haven’t eaten there then you’re frivolously shunned from circles and made to stand in the corner with PETA. Reading the menu you’re enticed immediately: pea and pig’s ear soup, rolled pig’s spleen, duck’s neck terrine. The descriptions roll off like prayer. It goes without saying that all are unusual delights, missing from the majority of restaurant menus across the land, and because of this omission often suffer a lack of flavour and exercising the variety of textures that can be found in a healthy organ or off-cut. Henderson’s belief is both simple and respectful: “‘Nose to Tail Eating’ means it would be disingenuous to the animal not to make the most of the whole beast.” And I’m with him. Let me explore and smack my lips around pork belly, wrap tongue around tongue, chew the heart, puncture a lung, and snap a crispy pig’s tail. All eulogies are correct, the Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad is food to love. Four sawn-off bones contain hot jellied marrow for you to spread on toast, along with a sprinkling of coarse salt and chopped parsley. It’s warm and rich and fun to assemble. The marrow is grilled to leave a burnt surface that you can crack with a spoon or sharp implement. It’s no nonsense and all the better for it. Straightforward ingredients present my main too: ox heart & chips. Nowadays you’re used to reading plate descriptions that take you off the page and contain so many characterisations that you’re baffled as to exactly what it is you’ve just sent for. This elementary listing informs me of exactly what it is I want to know: I’m expecting ox heart (yep, the beating pulse and lifeline from the beast itself – flappy ventricles and all) with chips. Simply, chips. And it was fantastic. A single gulls’ egg was one of the finest orbs I’ve had the pleasure of popping into my gob, and I’ve tasted many an egg, from all the Scotch varieties, plus quail to duck to Ostrich. It was a true gastronomic delicacy served at the beginning of season with celery salt. Pushed out from the tight backside of the black-headed gull, these eggs are rare, creamy in texture and of a fine size. For all the agonising heavy breathing and constipation the black-headed gull endured, I must say, she’s some sport and I honour her. A bottle of Minervois was good, an appellation for distinctive red wines from the western Languedoc and recommended by a friend. St. John is great fun. Even better when inebriated. Better still with toffee pudding, and tipped over the edge by the warm Madeleines – the best I’ve tasted! Fresh and doughy, melt-in-the-mouth, cushion shells. I now crave them every day. It’s torture.
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