In this year’s list of the world’s top 50 restaurants, there were a few surprises with Gordon Ramsay dropping out altogether, France not having a single eaterie in the top 6, whilst Spain had 4 in the top 8. The best USA restaurant came in at number 6 and The Fat Duck retained it’s number 2 position behind El Bulli of Spain.
Of particular interest to a number of commentators was the two place rise of St John, a restaurant in London’s Smithfield (Meat) Market, rising from number 14 to number 12 in the list. Much of the interest was around the fact that many had not even known it had been on the list at number 12 the year before.
St John has got one Michelin Star which was a complete surprise to the owner when it was awarded, as was its inclusion on the list of the world’s best restaurants when the guide was published.
I must know St John although I’m pretty sure I haven’t eaten there. It’s just round the corner from my old BT office and since Smithfield started its gastronomic journey several years ago with fancy restaurants popping up everywhere, it has been a favourite for BT people whose office is within a 5 minute walk of that famous square, where the English put William Wallace, the leader of the Scottish independence movement, to death in 1305.
Despite that slight against the Scots, I have spent the last 17 years eating in and around Smithfield and given that St John opened in 1994, I must have passed it even if I’ve not eaten there. Thinking about it, given what they serve, it’s quite likely that I refused any invitation to dine there – maybe the title of the blog gives it away.
Nose to Tail refers both to a book which the owner of the restaurant (Fergus Henderson) has written as well as the use they make of the daily delivery of four suckling pigs and this is where I start to think and favour the other, more ‘conventional’ restaurants in Smithfield.
Grilled Bone Marrow. Grilled Chiterlings. Pigs Head & Potato Pie. Apparently, and I apologise here, the only things they have not found a recipe for are the pigs’ 'naughty bits', but they’re probably working on it! Yuck!
Now before you think all they do is pig, you’re wrong. They get fresh fish from Essex and strangely, don’t get their meat from the meat market in the same square, preferring to use favoured suppliers who provide exactly the type of produce they’re after. They make all their own bread and choose their veggies the night before in the London fruit & veg market. It all smacks of a very low-key, small-scale operation and, I suppose to some extent it is, but it’s reported to be delicious and the comments from other famous chefs are glowing in their praise about both its simplicity (the simplicity of the cooking is reflected in the unadorned décor, paper tablecloths and blunt menu - Brown Shrimp and White Cabbage, Ox Heart and Chips), and its cooking. Probably the most descriptive is the following; ‘Reading and dreaming of all these recipes makes me want to torch my own Babbo restaurant and move to London to heed the master's call." - New York chef Mario Batali.
Looking at the menus, the prices are not too bad either. £6.00 ish for a starter and maybe around £20 for a main course – typical London prices for anything other than a local, side-street restaurant.
So, here’s to St John. A success from a relatively modest background and which has catapulted them to number 12 in the world.
Link to the restaurant below.