Winter is coming - and this means game season is upon us
The Clerkenwell branch is the original St John group restaurant, opened by Fergus Henderson 24 years ago. He aimed to celebrate neglected cuts of meat such as offal as the main event of his dishes and present them as tasty morsels. The bar remains just as high today.
At the heart of the kitchen is local, seasonal and nose-to-tail eating. Upon entering the warehouse-style restaurant with its whitewashed brick walls, aromatic smells waft from the bakery reminding me of grandma's kitchen on a Sunday. There is something very appealing about two substantial rustic chocolate cakes cooling on a bench, and the aroma of freshly baked bread is intoxicating.
Next to the bakery is a sunny bar area that seats about 20 diners and offers a daily-changing menu running along the lines of crab on toast, Welsh rarebit and their famous roasted bone marrow. The small but exceptional range of craft beers on offer such as Freedom larger, White Tips which I am told is like a vice beer, and Siren Yu Lu, a pale ale from Berkshire are all tempting. The English pale ale we opt for smells deliciously hoppy.
For starters, we order the Jerusalem artichokes and Welsh rarebit. Piquant olives and mustard mayonnaise topped with fresh herbs elevated the humble artichoke to something sublime. The Welsh rarebit is a gooey, spicy and cheesy delight.
Jerusalem Artichokes and that ultimate comfort food, Welsh Rarebit. It even comes with your own bottle of Worcestershire sauce if you want to spice things up.
Specials run out fast as there are only one or two portions per night depending on what chef sourced that morning at the market. We miss out on the hake but manage to secure the pig's cheek and devilled kidneys. The first has splendidly crisp hog skin and the other a gentle mineral flavour with a kick of chilli heat at the end.
The pigs cheek was succulent and moreish. The meat was expertly cooked and perfectly flavoured. The devilled lamb kidneys were firm and imparted a subtle iron flavour.
Portions are generous, hearty and rich. Make sure you're hungry before you go.
Nothing in this restaurant is fussy by any stretch of the imagination. There are no distractions from fancy trimmings. There is no foam in sight. The St John is all about insightful dishes plated on plain white plates.
The service is slick, our waiter is friendly and has a good sense of humour. He is attentive without being intrusive.
White paper tablecloths set the tone of a crisp, clean atmosphere and strike the perfect balance between formal and casual dining.
St John Bar and Restaurant Smithfield produces high quality food without pomp and ceremony . The food is the star at this place. Simplicity at its best.
In keeping with the decor of the rest of the restaurant, the toilets downstairs have white New York subway tiles on the wall. Aesop toiletries give the bathroom a polished look.
The restaurant is child-friendly. There is ample room in the restaurant for buggies, and high chairs are available on request.
The only criticism I can think of is the restaurant may not be suitable for vegetarians. For everyone else, the food speaks for itself with laser precision focus on big and bold flavours. The St John exemplifies the Best of British cooking. Highly recommended.
The menu changes often but classics such as Welsh Rarebit and Bone Marrow are always available. The wine list is comprehensive and there is a cross-section of craft beers from local breweries.