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”.