MOST RECENT DINNERS
A Gastronaut visits St. John’s in London
Review by Curtiss Calleo
St. John’s Restaurant in London’s Smithfield district must be the spiritual home of our Gastronauts club. Here, Fergus Henderson has created a place for all those foods that formerly were banned from polite society: Lamb’s Brains, Offall, Crispy Pig’s Tails, Kidneys, to name just a few of the items on the menu. His cookbook “Nose to Tail Eating” is a manual for cooking all things unusual, filled with recipes like Blood Cake and Bath Chaps.
So, while passing through London this summer on our way to Italy, we decided to visit my mecca (my companion is not a member of Gastronauts, but graciously agreed to visit this restaurant anyway.) St. John’s did not disappoint. The restaurant looks the part, having a kind of no nonsense elegance. The waiters are all in white, floors, walls, tables all white—you have the sense that we are all just here to eat this stuff, so why bother with fancy paintings? Indeed, there is a kind of espirit de corps among the diners, as there must be a larger and semi-secret society of lovers of unusual dishes.
The menu read like a fabulous what’s what of oddities: Crispy Pig’s Tail, Offall, Tongue, Kidneys. Some words were entirely new to me, Trotters. I briefly contemplated ordering one dish and getting several others to go, I was that torn. Finally, I settled on Chittlings for an appetizer and Crispy Pig’s Tail as my main dish. (note: for those traveling with non-Gastronauts, there are a few fish dishes available that are not at all challenging—probably in recognition of the fact that most of the time only half of a couple is really interested in eating this way.) The waiter, amused by my enthusiasm, recommended a nice white wine, that cut though the savour of the intestines and the tail nicely. The whole meal was a delight—I was sitting next to a trio eating Bone Marrow (which come with the requisite marrow spoons—long and slim so as to extract all from the bone) and Offall. On the other side, a couple wrapped in an appreciative silence was enjoying a shared plate of Kidneys. I quietly ate my Pig’s Tail and greens, sipping a nice dry white wine, enjoying the atmosphere—waiters rushing back an forth carrying dishes like Whole Roast Pig (order in advance).
26 St. John Street
London, EC1M 4AY
Friday, June 23, 2006