St John Restaurant. What can I say? Well there is definitely something to be said about having stellar expectations, looking forward to a meal at a reputedly fantabulous restaurant, and having my little heart shattered from disappointment.

Expectation, coupled with the fact that I’d just experienced the insufferable uselessness of the British travel system (given that two fluffs of snowflakes caused some major flight disruptions to and from Luxembourg where I’d just spent three nights with very little sleep, and believe me, I is precious with my sleep), resulted in me being crazy excited about my meal at St John last night.

Because food does make everything better.

BUT. Disappointment plus.

I’m not really sure what exactly I was expecting, and I didn’t even mind that the smoked eel was no longer on the menu (a dish which culinary friends have said changed their lives), because there seemed to be plenty of other deliciousness on the menu.

I think it was just that everything was so bland. Like, aside from the funkquar ingredients, I could probably have made this stuff at home (ok probably not, but y’know, it didn’t taste supercolourfragalistically amazing).

So for starters I ordered the stupendously famous roasted bone marrow – chef Fergus Henderson being renowned for his “nose to tail” eating, which in other words means eating every single part of the animal. This was probably the only awesome dish of the evening and I revelled in digging and poking out the marrow with my little lobster fork.

The marrow was silky soft and fat laden, the meaty aromas perfectly accompanied by a scattering of sea salts and eaten with a slice of toast. I’m not sure what part of the animal they came from (don’t say the bone, I will bite you), but the dark marrow was so much more delicious than the light… not that I’m racist or anything.

Panu ordered the hare broth, which we expected to at least have some semblance of meat (because hare is rabbit, right? Or am I totally confused?) but it was pretty much looked like ye olde vegetable soup, and tasted much like it too.

Mains were also pretty much meh but Panu’s was at least interesting. He ordered the teal with braised savoy cabbage. What’s a teal, you ask? Very good question. I asked wiki before we went to St John and it said that teal is something of a small duck.

Well, we love duck, so teal should be good right?

Right. Kind of. The teal came out looking like an oversized quail, and is a very very red meated little thing. “Red meated”. Totally the technical term. But not only was the little teal red meated, it was also amazingly gamey and get this: the whole thing, from breast to little wing to little thigh, it all tasted like a pungent piece of liver.

And I like liver! But like liver on steroids, all rolled up into a cute little bird. How weird is that?!

My main was the halibut with leek and tartare sauce. Totally and utterly ordinary (and definitely something I can make at home) so I won’t even waste your time discussing it.

What I will say though is that the tartare sauce was more like a hot mustard sauce, which I’m not a huge fan of. But that wasn’t specified on the menu and urgh I hate places that aren’t clear with what’s in your meal.

Grumpity grump.

We also ordered a serve of sprout tops on the side, which was very yummy, not the least because it was laced with about three gallons of butter. Yum.

Dessert! Finally! A great way to end every ordinary meal. So I very rarely have anything mean to say about sweet things and well, I don’t have anything mean to say here.

Apple crumble and vanilla ice cream tasted like what it ought to taste like (which is a great start) and the rhubarb with meringue and cream came out like a pavlova which we all know I love so easy wins there.

In fact, rhubarb is something that I never used to like but has definitely grown on me in the last year… I now sometimes even prefer rhubarb tartness over say strawberry sweetness.

Am I getting old?!

So there you go. That’s me and St John in a nutshell.

Why, why does everyone love it so? What am I missing? I mean, just check out all these love-ups:

Pig Pig’s Corner
Laissez Fare
Gourmet Traveller
London Eater


Surely it’s not just me who thinks St John is just…. meh. Or maybe it is just me, me and my broken heart.

St John Restaurant
26 St John St
London, EC1M 4AY
0207 251 0848

St John (Farringdon) on Urbanspoon

23 Thoughts on “St John Restaurant: expectations, good marrow and a little heart break

  1. Hey Catzter,

    Very sorry to hear of your experience! I’m just recounting my own experience there, and I think I liked it for its sheer simplicity, use of produce and for its relatively modest pricing. To me, I think that’s St John’s charm in it’s rather stripped down concept, and I agree with you that it does seem abit simple.

    I did think the cooking was skillful, in that the food was well seasoned, flavoured and balanced. It sounds to me like, your experience of the cooking was that it was abit bland?

    On my visit, we had the pigeon, served very pink and bloody and it tasted very gamey, very much like one big piece of liver as well…. not to everybody’s taste I suppose, and game birds are still abit of challenge for me to be honest.

    Anyway, to each their own as they say, that’s the beauty of food. I’m anxious to give St John another try, just to see if visit two would be near what I experience during visit one.

  2. Hey Kang,

    Yeh I totally understand what you’re saying.. and I do think I appreciate “simple foods cooked well” too.. but when I dine out, I sort of expect to have something different, something that I wouldn’t normally be able to have at home. I guess the marrow was great because I wouldn’t know the first thing about how to start that… but the hare broth and the fish were just so.. ordinary!

    As for the teal, yeah that was probably more a taste thing… anyway, do go back, again like my Yalla Yalla experience I think it’s just me, because there certainly is a lot of support for St John out there!

  3. Yeah I’m not a huge fan either. Rules does game better, Hawksmoor does steak better, and Scotts does fish better. It’s good, but it’s not brilliant. I think it’s reasonably priced though.

  4. It’s a shame you were disappointed. The charm of St John lies in it’s simplicity and the sourcing of good ingredients. I’ve never tried teal, but I find most game birds have that livery flavour.

  5. Chris: True, price was surprisingly pleasant…

    Lizzie: There’s simplicity but different (like the marrow, which I thought was awesome), or simplicity and boring though – like the fish and soup. Anyhoos, had to be tried and now it’s done.

  6. James S. on January 11, 2010 at 4:33 pm said:

    Exactly what I thought catty. I went recently with my girlfriend because everyone said it’d be amazing but I thought it was just like any old dinner I’d had. No idea why the hype. Thanks for posting an honest review.

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  8. I wasn’t that impressed either:

    Rules does better game, Scott’s better fish. One thing I will say for St John though is that I never feel like I’m being ripped off. Prices are pretty fair.

  9. Hi Catty,

    Thanks for the review, enjoyed reading it.

    In my mind (and as both Mrs. LF and I pointed out in our review), St John is meant to be simple food done really well. Like you say, you could probably cook a lot of it at home, and if you were a really good cook, it would probably taste just as good.

    I did find on our two visits that nearly everything we had had been seasoned correctly (at least to my palate), was cooked perfectly and made the most out of the fresh and in-season ingredients it was using. (There were a few knock-out dishes too: read marrow & smoked eel).

    That’s what I liked about it – it was that good old home-cooked meal you could have at your grandma’s house if she were a good cook. It’s just nice to go somewhere and have them do it for you sometimes.

    Again, as I said in the review, it is a shame that St John has acquired so much fame (not that I don’t think it deserves it’s success) in the sense that there should be tons of restaurants across Britain turning out such plates of food (maybe minus the specializing in unloved cuts of meat, which isn’t to everyone’s taste)- but, alas, in my experience, this is not even close to the case. When you order this type of food at most other establishments it doesn’t usually satisfy, and that’s why I think St John is good.

    I also sort of like the spartan nature of the place and the paired down ethos & think their old school puddings are pretty wicked.

    All the best,


  10. You know that I agree based on my last (and only) visit. Whilst I appreciate that the food is well sourced and reasonably priced, my roast lamb simply wasn’t to my taste. I am prepared to give St John another go though.

  11. You shoulda gone to Portal ! Mind you I’m surprised you went for a fish main course as it isn’t what I’d order at St. John. That said I’ve not actually been !

  12. James: I’m starting to think St John is good for what it does, but I BLAME THE HYPE! Twas the hype that got me all excited and heart broken *sigh*

    Chris: Did you love me so much you commented twice? Aww you did! shucks *blush* 😉

    LF: After reading all these feedback I’m beginning to feel like ok, St John does what it does and it does it well. I think it was the build up in my own mind of something that was going to be supertacular and the consequent let down. I don’t even know what I was expecting now, but definitely more than a good home cooked meal… but if that’s what SJ does best then all the more power to them. Maybe I will go back one day with a different perspective.

    Mark: I’d give it another go once I get my head around not expecting a “different” type of meal, and just a good home cooked meal. Although, to me, a home cooked meal is like some awesome fish head curry, so I don’t really know what to expect!

    Mr Noodles: What’s Portal? Goddamn I haven’t even heard of that before. You know what, I have no idea why I ordered the fish LOL… I don’t normally go there at a restaurant but for some reason I thought St John would blitz the fish and make it awesome, but see, setting myself up for disappointment all over again.

  13. What a shame. Sorry it didn’t meet your expectations. I would suggest giving it another go though and having a crack at some of the other dishes. I had a similar experience with teal as well – it is distinctly gamey and made my dining partner gag – not a good sign.

  14. Portal is a Portuguese restaurant on St John St that I wrote about and you commented on before Xmas !

  15. Alex: Oh yeh for someone who doesn’t like liver that would have definitely made them want to gag. It was STRONG.

    Mr Noodles: LOL shame on me! Did I say I wanted to go? It sounds yum! 🙂

  16. This is one restaurant I have on my must visit one day list (happen I should just move nearer London 😉 ) as it has always had such good reviews. Sometimes though all the hype just doesn’t live up and it’s such a disappointment. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it.

  17. Hey Catts,

    The problem with this post is that you’ve never resided in Blighty long enough, well not long enough anyway to get the gist of British fodder (and I don’t mean chicktix masala or savaloy and chips). When I first came to Britain over thirty years ago I was served Cottage Pie on my first day at school; the stodge alarmed me but it was cold out there and there weren’t any Chinese Supermarkets selling instant noodles in Sussex in those days. I complied and I ate, and I thought to myself when in Rome…but it wasn’t that bad and I finished the lunch accompanied by a misjudged glass of diluted Robinson’s orange barley. I wrote to Mum soon after and relayed: food at school is different from home but I can survive because it was entirely edible and actually rather good. Other dishes that soon followed included liver and bacon, mac cheese, marmite-on-toast, venison stewed to death, toad in the hole, mince and spuds, spotted dick and so on. The simplicity and no nonsense attitude to British cuisine are oft misunderstood and encourage others to lambaste and dismiss it as a non-starter. If you’re hanging around in London for another five years then you’ll probably appreciate what you had here more. Although StJ is not my fave (Hereford Road, well hello!), Fergus Henderson deserves all the credit for putting the real Brit nosh back on the map. If in doubt try a roast grey partridge or steak and kidney pud (not pie please!). Nice but cheeky write-up!

  18. George: I think you should definitely still try it… I was totally misguided by the hype, I was expecting something rather spectacular I think… but oh well, you live and learn (to not listen to twitter!) 🙂

    Fat Les: Hehehe great comment – too cute I can just imagine little you asking mum what a cottage pie is and where is your after school bowl of jook? 😀 But I agree with you – I don’t have a good perception of what constitutes “British Food”… being Malaysian/Australian, my palate has been swayed towards the heavily flavoured and very international tastes.. and for me, simple food is what you make at home. When I go out and pay money, I’ve been groomed to expect something phenomenal. I’m sure Fergus is phenomenal in his own right, but maybe just not my cup of tea. Thanks for dropping by! 🙂

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  20. Greg on April 2, 2010 at 7:49 am said:

    Totally with you again, Catty. St John is nothing special.
    I’m so old I actually went to the opening of St John and even then I thought it was a bit gimmicky.
    Having just moved to Farringdon I gave it another go but it was, as you say, a bit “meh”.
    After my miserable experience at Modern Pantry last night and a thoroughly underwhelming meal at Hix,I’m starting to wonder if there’s a decent restaurant in the area. I was so excited at the foodie pospects of London, after living in a culinary wasteland for three years. But so far, ho-hum.
    Bistro Bruno Loubet is next on my list. Here’s hoping…

    • Oh God I can’t believe you went to Modern Pantry and then St John. I mean I think St John is probably good for what it does, I personally didn’t enjoy it, but Modern Pantry is just *shocking*

      Better luck with Bistro Bruno Loubet! I haven’t been there so can’t help but am keen to hear what you think! 🙂

  21. I’m half-a-year too late on the conversation, but nonetheless agree with the above review after having tried St. John’s last night. A Completely underwhelming experience to say the least. Yes, simple food with regionally sourced
    and seasonally blah blah blah…and. AAAND? You gotta do better than the basics to complete with the great cuisines of the world. A bland medium-rare piece of lamb with steamed runner beans is not worth the accolades.

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