Sunday, 16 May 2010

Eating out

My colleague Sébastien returns to France for good next month, and I wanted to make sure he ate out at a good British restaurant before he goes back. Where better than St. John, with Fergus Henderson's take on British cooking? This is one of only three UK restaurants to make the S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list this year; it also happens to be one of my favourite restaurants. I ate there last year with Aaron, and I know he enjoyed it, so I invited him to join use there for lunch again today.

I have long been a fan of Fergus Hendenson, and you will see recipes from his books The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating and Beyond Nose to Tail: More Omnivorous Recipes for the Adventurous Cook on this blog from time to time. His ascetic style and emphasis on using the whole beast is not to everyone's taste; some of my chef friends find the food too basic, but it's the robust flavours and unfussy presentation that appeal to me.

I was particularly pleased to see roast bone marrow and parsley salad on the menu today.  This is something I have wanted to try for a while (Anthony Bourdain chose this as his "last supper"), so my choice of starter was quickly settled. Aaron also went for the bone marrow, which we both thought was delicious and complemented brilliantly by the fresh parsley and shallot salad with its acidic dressing. Sébastien started with the crab on toast, which he said was beautifully fresh and packed with flavour.

For the main course, I had crisp pig's cheeks with dandelions. The pig's cheeks are salted then slowly cooked in goose fat, drained and cooled, then returned to the oven to finish. This results in a crisp skin and very tender flesh with an intense porky flavour. (Emily at the Kingham Plough makes a similar dish: try it if it's on the menu when you're there, you won't regret it.)

Aaron and Sébastien both had chitterlings with turnips for their main. They devoured them quickly, but I did sneak a taste: fantastic!

We were all pretty full after this, but it would have been a shame to let this get in the way of dessert. So we didn't. Sébastien and I had the baked cheese cake with Marc, while Aaron finished with an Eccles cake and Lancashire cheese.

I haven't mentioned the bread. The bread was great. White or brown sourdough, both packed with flavour and a delightful acidic edge. I wish I could make bread like this. I have been making sourdough regularly for several months, but clearly I have more to learn.

All in all, a great meal and well worth the journey to London. The menu changes daily, and there are plenty more familiar dishes on offer (we could have had roast lamb, or roast Middlewhite pork, or Megrim sole, or whole sea bass). I would have been perfectly happy to eat any of these, but they are the sort of things I cook at home and I prefer to try something different when I'm eating out. Here's hoping I don't leave it another year before my next visit to St John's.

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