“I went to St. John craving a hearty meal on a typical rainy and snowy day, and I got exactly that”, observed one reader after scoffing a bowl of lamb broth and a plate of the legendary bone marrow and parsley salad – a humble collation that has risen to international stardom as a talisman for Messrs Henderson and Gulliver’s ‘nose-to-tail’ gastronomy.
Although the whole concept seems much less intimidating and less revolutionary these days, this renegade Michelin-starred eatery still puts its faith in poorhouse provender, cheap offcuts and wild pickings, supported by the very best seasonal produce.
As always, the menu changes each session – although the aforementioned bone marrow and one or two other dishes are perennial fixtures that will never go away. So, what can you expect? Perhaps grilled lamb’s heart with braised chicory, smoked sprats with celeriac, and kid faggots with lentils and mustard or pig’s head with white beans and radishes followed by skate with bread and capers. It’s a cornucopia of home-grown delights prepared with rare skill – in short, “British cooking at its finest”.
A plate of roast ox liver with bacon and swede was an eye-opener on a recent visit, every bit as much of a delicacy as the more prized calf’s liver (even more so if you truly love the flavour of liver). A bracing plate of brown shrimp with white cabbage (typical of the menu’s terse descriptions) was just as thrilling on the palate, while roast teal is one of many excellent game dishes in season – though it’s grouse that truly deserves its epithet of ‘king of game’ when put in the hands of Henderson’s kitchen.
For afters, we favour the chocolate and prune trifle if it’s on, although others are hooked on the Eccles cake served with a hunk of Lancashire cheese. Either way, be sure to order a plate of St John’s legendary home-baked madeleines – it’s well worth the 15-minute wait.
Originally a smokehouse, the white-walled dining room is famously spare and sparse, an appropriately bare-boned backdrop for belly-busting feasting of the first order. Amid such patriotically British flag-waving generosity, only the wine list dares to speak with a thick French accent.