There’s something about St John which I’ve always admired: The whole concept of nose to tail eating is something which had been forgotten in the current age where people only eat the prime choice cuts of meat or whatever is convenient (or whatever the big supermarkets decide to sell). That said, thanks to places like St John, people are beginning to grasp the concept of nose to tail eating and (perhaps due to) our current times of austerity, are actively seeking out the lesser cuts of meat as they’re realising that not only are these lesser cuts cheaper, but can deliver massively in terms of flavour. The resulting food at St John is robust and certainly not for the feint-hearted (excuse the pun), it could even be regarded as old-fashioned in using that they use the lesser cuts of the animal but St John make no apologies for it and the food is cooked extremely well. I think that being Chinese has meant that I was not only brought up eating the lesser cuts of meat and offal but there are times when I actively seek out the innards to eat – It still amuses me to see pork belly cropping up on menus of more upscale restaurants almost as if it’s fashionable to cook pork belly when the truth of the matter is that it’s a very economical cut of meat that has plenty of flavour so it would make sense to be on a restaurant menu. I’m not suggesting that the Chinese were the first purveyors of eating pork belly, but it is a bit amusing for me to see it on menus like it’s a new thing when I’ve been eating it since I was a child. Even something like bonemarrow can be regarded almost as being quite decadent because it’s so rich in taste and still relatively hard to find in restaurants. That said, I’m also acutely aware that some of the people I tend to dine with may not necessarily be as open-minded as myself when it comes to eating innards, but the majority of them will at least sample it for themselves so they can rightly then form an opinion as to whether they like it or not – Why can’t we have more people like my friends rather than ones who pull a face at the thought of eating innards?!.
A recent trip to Londinium for Q’s Birthday saw us arriving very early for our lunch booking so we looked for places to have breakfast at in Central London. There were a few places that caught our eye, but either they were too out-of-the-way or the prices were too exorbitant (£18 for a full English Breakfast, anyone?). We did think about breakfast at The Gilbert Scott in the newly restored St Pancras Station but they only served breakfast until 9:30am and we weren’t due to arrive at Euston until 09:34 so that was ruled out. Then, we discovered that the recently opened St John Hotel served breakfast until 10:30am, so if we made it straight there from Euston, we could make it in time. Excited at the prospect, we decided to take a look at the menu; there were the famed Breakfast Buns and the cooked main dishes included Devilled Kidneys on toast, blood pudding and beans on toast, boiled eggs with anchovy on toast and ham, eggs.. Well, if there was anywhere you should eat devilled kidneys on toast, surely St John would be fairly high – If not the top – of the list. Already excited in anticipation, the table was booked.
Arriving at Leicester Square tube station 10am on a Saturday morning was lovely as there was hardly anyone there as compared to the hordes of tourists which I’m so accustomed to seeing whenever there. However, I was running a bit late for the 10am booking and well, I was a woman on a mission so I hardly took in the surroundings and heading straight to the hotel restaurant. I didn’t really know what to expect and I had seen some photos online but actually getting there to find that it’s quite a small location surprised me somewhat. In fact, there wasn’t any sign for the restaurant and it was only from spotting Q in the restaurant through the window that I realised where it was.
In the days leading up to the booking, I had emailed the restaurant to enquire about the availability of Breakfast Buns and Devilled Kidneys to be told that they would do their best to keep some Breakfast Buns for us (YAYS!) but there could be no guarantee that Devilled Kidneys would be available as the menu changes daily, which was fair enough. So upon reading the menu, the first thing I looked for was Devilled Kidneys and they were indeed, on the menu that day – JOY! Mindful of the time (it was now 10:15 and breakfast is only served until 10:30) we set about ordering without any further delay:
Breakfast buns were a must-order item, as were the Devilled Kidneys on toast. Plus, we ordered the boiled eggs with anchovy on toast for a umami punch to the morning. Sadly, they sold out of Devilled Kidneys after all that talk-up about it so we plumped for the blood pudding and baked beans on the reasoning that we already had eggs with the anchovy on toast and again, we felt sure that the blood pudding would be something rather special given we were at St John. Everything arrives at once and the smells were fantastic, plus they all looked very appetising; we couldn’t wait to get stuck in:
Firstly, the boiled eggs and anchovy on toast. Anchovy paste was thickly smeared onto a thick slice of toasted (home-made) sourdough bread and served with 2 boiled eggs. The eggs themselves were cooked between the stage of soft and hard-boiled so they weren’t runny, but cooked enough so that you could still smear it onto the toast. I’m not exactly sure if they were meant to be soft-boiled, but I liked that they weren’t too soft or hard-boiled. Q thought that the toast was a bit too charred but I quite liked it, I thought it added a bit of bitterness to contrast the anchovy paste. Oh, and the anchovy paste itself was delectable; The only thing I could think of similar is Gentlemen’s Relish which is a bit of an acquired taste but this wasn’t overpowering at all and gave a umami punch which went fantastically well with the eggs. If I were to be overly critical, I would have liked 2 slices of toast to go with the 2 eggs, but I suspect that has more to do with the fact that I’m greedy more than anything – 2 slices of toast could be seen as too much and overkill for the eggs but they were so tasty that more would definitely have been appreciated.
On to the blood pudding and baked beans (with toast). The toast for this dish wasn’t overly charred so plus points there (from Q anyway). I don’t know why, but I was expecting normal baked beans, yunno like Heinz, but the beans had been jazzed up here. I’m not entirely sure that they made the baked beans themselves, but the seasoning was certainly nicer and there were bits of tomatoes in the beans too which were a welcome (if unexpected) addition and put a new spin on them. However, the star of the dish was undoubtedly the blood pudding. I’m quite particular about blood pudding and even though I’m from the Midlands where people apparently like large chunks of lard in their blood pudding, which personally speaking I’m not so wild about. So I was a bit apprehensive when I saw that the blood pudding here had visibly large chunks of lard as a result. I could see that the outside had a crisp char (was it burnt?) but once I put my knife to it, what was inside was so soft and almost fluffy that my knife went through without needing too much effort – Exactly how I like to eat my blood pudding. This was mind-blowingly delicious; the spicing and flavouring was exactly right and a smear of it on the toast with some beans and egg which I had leftover from the other dish was a mouthful of pure deliciousness. Seriously, I had completely forgotten the disappointment of not having any devilled kidneys and was completely absorbed by how good this dish was instead.
Finally, the Breakfast Buns. The much-lauded Breakfast Buns. I’ll be honest with you and didn’t really know what to expect – Would we get like 2 breakfast baps? Each one with some bacon, sausage and/or egg? What we did get were 3 handmade breakfast pastries and the nice man brought along some preserves to go with it (honey, marmalade and a raspberry preserve). I was told what the pastries were but in my old age/giddiness I’ve completely forgotten what they were exactly. I do know there was a plain one that was almost like a brioche in taste, there was one which was like a pain aux raisins and a cinnamon bun. I avoided the pain aux raisins as it was too sweet, but from the little pickings I had of the other 2, then were light and fluffy and very tasty. Q took the remnants home as they were far too good to waste or leave behind.
So that was it, an absolute success and no exaggeration in saying one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had to pay for. All the dishes were fantastic and I’m seriously thinking of getting an earlier train next time I go to Londinium just so I can come here again – It’s that good. I’ve love to come back for lunch or dinner just to see how they compare, but in the meantime, do yourselves a favour and go to St John Hotel for breakfast if you ever get the chance to. Or, get to London just that bit earlier so that you can have breakfast here, you won’t get much better elsewhere.