Everything about the restaurant that Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver opened in October 1994, warms the cockles of my heart. From the brilliant offal cuisine to the environment, St. JOHN is the kind of place that inspires every muscle in my body. Which is why when I found myself in London for the first time, a seat at any table was something I couldn’t pass on.
Arriving at the end of lunch service, I was a little worried about how things might go. Happily, I was welcomed at the bar and told I could stay as long as I want. Ain’t that a sweet thing to hear! Starting with a pint of beer, I took the first 15 minutes to sip my beverage and absorb the restaurant I’ve seen in magazines, books, and televisions shows. Striking up a fruitful conversation with the staff, my travel stories and desire to be in this exact spot were received with open arms. They even brought me a the restaurants copy of Fergus’ latest book to flip through while eating. Seriously, two of the coolest cats I’ve ever met.
Knowing one can only eat so much by themselves, I dug my heels in an hoped for as much space as I could muster.
Plate 1 – Devilled Lamb Kidneys. Absolutely amazing. Rich, sweet, and unlike any kidney I’ve ever had. Wikipedia says – “Devilled kidneys is a Victorian era British breakfast dish consisting of lamb’s kidneys cooked in a spiced sauce, referred to as “devilling”. This dish was so good that I picked up lamb kidneys from ACME after returning so that I could make this at home.
Plate 2 – Welsh Rarebit. Eighteenth-century English cookbooks reveal that it was then considered to be a luscious supper or tavern dish, based on the fine cheddar-type cheeses and the wheat breads; this dish is really just a mixture of savory sauce and cheese poured over bread. Rich, yes. Gooey, yes. Tasty, definitely. A bit much for one sitting, I would have found this dish easier to share with someone from a practical richness angle. Especially as I’d just consumed those kidneys.
Plate 3 – Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad. I couldn’t imagine coming all of this way and not enjoy Fergus’ groundbreaking bone marrow dish. This is a dish I’ve made plenty of times and try to enjoy at almost every restaurant willing to roast it. Exactly as read. Exactly as pictured. Exactly as expected. There is no other way to say it, but spreading this meat butter onto bread, adding a sprinkle of sea salt and scatter of greens makes this the best dish of my day. Truly outstanding.
Plate 4/5 – Bread Course/Terrine. At this point, I was all in. So I opted to get myself into a bread course. And when you get tired of putting butter on bread, why not a terrine made out of every pig part you can think of and then some. Not as smooth as your classic French terrine, this rough variety was a meaty, offal treat. Plus, who doesn’t love a good pickle.
Nearing the end of my terrine course, I sat alone in this beautiful restaurant, digesting the last couple of hours of food and conversation. Hearing footsteps to my left, I saw him saunter up at the bar and order a drink. In all of my awe, I was star struck by the man himself. Fergus Henderson was standing beside me. Fergus “freaking” Henderson! Drinking at the bar. Stumbling across my first words, I can’t begin to describe what a heart warming moment this was for me in life. People have asked why I didn’t get a picture or an autograph, and like most special moments, I wanted this one to foster in my heart for as long as it will remember.
I came to St. JOHN to fulfill a dream. I left with more than I could have ever hoped for. Thank you Fergus.