It's been nearly a year since we had a Chowdown at St John in Smithfield. I was absolutely bowled over on that occasion - fresh, high quality produce, perfectly-timed cooking - what more can one ask? Best meal I'd had in London for a long time then.
Tried its younger sibling this evening - St John Hotel's comfy little restaurant, perched on the edge of Leicester Square, bordering on Chinatown, was more an escape pod than a wing fighter of the Smithfield Mothership. Squarish, bright dining room, open kitchen, hard surfaces - which meant that your neighbors' conversation could be heard all round.
My dinner was a case of hits-and-misses. Started with:
- Devilled Pig's Skin & Smoked Herring Roe. Absobloodylutely sinful: large ribbons of puffed-up pork crackling, stacked effortlessly over a tastier British take on taramosalata. I floated into taste sensory nirvana.
Proceeded to a salad course:
- Beetroot, Boiled egg, Sorrel & Walnut. Confession: I am a beet addict - give me *anything* with beets & you've made me one happy camper. I once made a booking at Alice Waters' Chez Panisse - 5 weeks in advance, and with credit card details: Chez Panisse will deduct the full amount of the set dinner from your card if you fail to turn up without giving adequate cancellation notice - they *are* that serious. I remembered feeling a bit letdown when I was there that evening - the "no menu, you eat what I feel like cooking this evening" meal was unmemorable ... except for its selection of beets which accompanied the charcuterie. St John's beets were tastier than Chez Panisse's. The accompanying egg had a deep-orange molten centre - perfect. The course was beautifully plated - like John Constable meets Nigella Lawson.
- Ox cheek, celeriac mash & pickled walnut. I only liked the pickle. The ox-cheek - a deliciously glossy chunk of melt-in-the-mouth-tender piece of meat, beautiful to-die-for texture, was disappointingly bland & tasteless. Nowhere near the taste sensation I experienced from an almost similar dish at the 2-Michelin-star Petrus French reestaurant in Hong Kong last month.
- A delightful Rhubarb Jelly with Shortbread. It was a simple, pretty dessert which looked like it spilled out of an Alexis Soyer cookbook. I inhaled it up in no time.
I'd always enjoyed Fergus Henderson's cooking - it's an interesting, oftentimes entertaining 21st-century update on the heavy trad-Brit fare we used to obediently swallow in places like Maggie Jones a mere decade ago. Wished they'd put more flavor on that ox cheek dish though.
St John Hotel
1-2 Leicester St, London WC2H 7BL, GB