|Picture from www.stjohnbreadandwine.com|
There are very few eateries anywhere - be it in Helsinki, Stockholm or London - which I totally love and which are consistently excellent.
When we lived in the sticks there was a local pub which served fantastic British/French classics at reasonable prices. This 'local' was a ten minute drive away; still we became such regulars that we were treated like VIP's. A table was always found for us, even when the place was full to heaving (I never quite discovered how they managed this), they knew the wines we liked and were able to recommend something different every time that we'd fall in love with. The food wasn't outstanding, but it was consistently good. But a few months before we left the area, the pub changed hands and started to go downhill. I took this as a positive sign that we were doing the right thing by moving away.
The place that I most love in London is very different from our former local pub in sticksville. It's a proper celebrated restaurant called St John's Bread and Wine (or St John's Wood and Wine as we call it - don't ask) on Commercial Street in Spitalfields. Many people know it and love it, so I'm not exactly a pioneer in recommending the place to you.
But I urge you to try this restaurant if you can. The format is slightly different from the usual - the tables are pared down, the atmosphere is relaxed and buzzy and the food is prepared from fresh, seasonal ingredients. There's a lot of offal but also fish and delicious vegetable dishes. We've been trying to recreate their simple green salad of shredded lettuce, mint and spring onions, but can never quite get the taste just right.
The menu consists of several small bites - much like tapas - which you can have to share (or all to yourself if you can't agree with your dining partner or don't know them well enough). Last weekend some of the choices were,
New Season Garlic Soup, Snails & Bacon
Crispy Pig's Skin, Chicory & Red Onion ('Just like posh pork scratchings,' said Daughter)
Ox Heart & Celeriac
Courgettes, Butter Beans & Goat's Curd
The food arrives as soon as it's prepared so everything is hot and fresh. It costs between about £6-00 and £11-00 per dish. There are also a few (more expensive) 'large plates' if you wish to have a traditional meal with starter, main and pudding. The in-house baked bread is amazing (and my downfall as I never quite manage NOT to gorge on it before the food arrives), the staff are friendly and the wines are chosen with care. We always have the house red and white, and they are both absolutely excellent. We've eaten at this place more times than I can remember, and I've never been disappointed.
Last weekend we went there to celebrate a family birthday. I'd asked to have a table by the window and that was exactly what we got. They even put a little candle in one of the puddings, luckily there was no singing...
There's a sister restaurant, St John in Smithfield and the men behind the restaurants (and now a hotel) Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver, have written several books and won many accolades for their ethos of 'nose to tail eating'.
I cannot wait to try out the new St John Hotel and its reportedly amazing bar in the West End. If its anything like the restaurant in Spitalfields, it's soon going to be a favourite of mine.