St John: Carnivore carnival (September 2015)

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.