During my recent visit to London (October 2012) I had the opportunity to visit the restaurant in the St John Hotel in London’s Chinatown in two consecutive days.
The Hotel (and restaurant) is located a few meters away from Leicester Square and is easily accessible by all means of transportation.
The reason I went there has a name: Fergus Henderson.
Fergus Henderson is the “Nose to Tail” man. The simple principle that he pushed forward with his cooking is that when we slaughter an animal, it is a matter of respect but also of practicality, to eat all the bits. From nose to tail.
The Hotel in central London’s Leicester Square was opened in the Spring of 2011.
And it’s already a part of London history, housed in Manzi’s, the fish restaurant on the fringes of Chinatown that had been there forever, until suddenly it wasn’t.
Mr. Manzi one day sold everything, and headed off to Mone Carlo, giving to Fergus Henderson and his business partner Trevor Gulliver the opportunity to try out their hotel and restaurant concept in Central London.
The restaurant’s layout is simple with an open kitchen.
The staff is exceptional indeed. You feel right at home.
And what is most important for the weary traveller, is that the kitchen is open continuously from 12 noon to 12 midnight. So no matter when you can, you drop by and eat. This is exactly what I did on both days.
The two-day feast began with “Devilled Pig’s Skin & Smoked Cod’s Roe”.
When I saw it arriving to the table, I thought that this is not a dish, this is a sculpture. Nevertheless, I went ahead and enjoyed it.
This is a dish that epitomizes the concept of the appetizer. Crunchy texture, accompanied by the creamy and flavorfull roe.
I absolutely loooooove black pudding, or boudin noir as it is known in France.
It is one of the humblest but terribly delicious dishes, a real tribute to blood and guts.
It is only on the breakfast menu, but when I asked for it, at around 1730 hrs on a Friday afternoon, for what was a lunch and dinner meal after an exhaustive business meeting, it appeared miraculously in front of me. The restaurant’s maitr d’ hotel, a delightful lady, presented it with a glorious smile. The guys in the open kitchen were watching knowingly. I was in heaven! Needless to say, the divine pudding was “house” made.
Although Henderson is known as the “offal” man, St John Hotel have a menu with seafood items in addition to the “regular” meat and offal items. One of them was the cuttlefish with fennel and green sauce.
I was very curious to taste it, as cuttlefish is extremely light in flavour, and difficult in texture.
I was really lucky to taste this dish. Perfectly tender, full of flavor, and I had to ask for a spoon for the sauce.
The “Snails, Duck Hearts & Lovage”, sounded like a strange mix of diverse ingredients, but this was one more reason to taste it. And it worked!
I enjoyed the subtlety of the snails, and the robustness of the heart’s texture. The rather big chunks of fried bread were absolutely delicious.
The “Ox Heart, Beetroot & Red Cabbage” is a tribute to texture.
Firm, robust muscle, perfectly accompanied by the crunchy red cabbage and the beetroot.
And now the ultimate classic: “Bacon & Beans”. I do not recall bacon ever tasting so good.
After the black pudding, this is the second dish that made me feel that I was in my mother’s kitchen.
The bacon was juicy and full of flavors, the beans tender and tasty, and the sauce absolutely divine, and thick.
I was very curious to taste a fish dish. Especially after having tasted the meat heavy weights. I chose “Brill, Leeks & Aioli”.
The fish was perfectly cooked. As you can see.
I ate the skin and it was crispy and delicious!!!
I wish I could eat more leeks and aioli. But I couldn’t.
A good meal (or two meals for that matter) always ends with a new one.
So here is my list of what I wish to taste during my next visit: Mussels, Razor Clams, Lamb Sweetbreads, Pork Chops…
Thank you Mssrs. Henderson and Gulliver, thank you to all staff of the restaurant, You all gave me an unforgetable culinary experience.