This was probably the last place to take somebody who had been heaving up their stomach lining all weekend. But then again given that stomach lining has no doubt featured on the menu at some point here, it felt somewhat appropriate. I probably could have been more generous when ordering and gone for something a little more gag-friendly than brains on toast, but this was a satisfying payback for being made to endure the Kardashians all week.
In-keeping with the industrial east London surroundings, St. John’s is about as bare a restaurant can get. White walls, tables and coat hangers is all you get here. This no doubt was one of the first to embrace the paired back look, and at least it fits the theme of the restaurant’s no-fuss nose-to-tail cooking. This means it isn’t the sort of place to get all dressed up for, and to come and gasp over the beautiful presentation. It’s somewhere to get down and dirty with a good old plate of guts and bollocks. I still can’t decide if this look is for me though. I love the food, I just want to feel warm and comfortable when I eat it.
The decor aside, what does the talking at St. John’s is the grub, and what better way to start things than with a generous plateful of the brown sourdough. I’ve trekked across London on a Saturday morning to get my hands on one of these prized loaves, so I made sure I got my fill.
To start, we shared some brains on toast, that actually sounds a lot worse than they were. Cooked in butter and capers and served on another slice of that sourdough this was a really tasty starter. I’d never had brains before, and I can’t say I was too excited about the prospect of tucking into them, but I can now see Hannibal Lecter’s obsession. The closest taste they resemble is bone marrow, and spread over the bread they were delicious.
Next up was Blood Cake and duck egg (£8.10). A classic simple combination that pleases everybody. This was rich and salty and is the perfect match for the creamy yolk.
For main we shared mince on toast with a chicory salad (around £15). This was as homely as a dish can get. It’s basically what your mum would knock up on a cold night if she had a Michelin star under her belt. Again the sourdough worked perfectly to mop things up and give an added bite. What really pulled the dish together was the bitterness of the chicory which really cut through the deep meaty juices.
Then came pigeon with puy lentils (around £16) and this was another top notch dish. The pigeon was cooked to perfection and there was plenty of meaty juices to soak all of the lentils.
They’d run out of the rice pudding I’d had my eye on all night, so we passed on dessert. With a few bottles of Meantime Pale Ale each the bill was just over £80 which was good value for food of this quality. The service was friendly but a little inattentive, although I’ll put this down to the boisterous (and plain annoying) table of 30 next to us that were taking up all of the staff’s attention. Christ they were annoying. The type of east Londoners who are so chuffed of the fact that they are part of the ‘in’ crowd that they have to let everybody know. That aside, St. John’s was worth the trek east, even if it had the warmth of a hospital canteen, it was still as enjoyable a meal as I’ve had in a while.
Of course the nose-to-tail eating is what this restaurant got it’s name for, and while that has lost it’s novelty now that many restaurants across the capital have copied, what St. John’s continues to do, and what it has always done best, is just get on with things in its own simple way. Good British ingredients don’t need to be glamourously presented. They don’t need a thousand different cooking techniques. You can come here for the novelty of eating offal and brains, but if you think that’s all St. John’s is good for, then I’d challenge you to find a better restaurant in London that does such justice to British ingredients.
94-96 Commercial Street, E1 6LZ