A few years ago now I was sitting in St John with a group of family and friends feeling very happy to be there and scanning the menu for what I knew was going to be a delicious supper. Amongst this small group was my late and much loved brother in law. He immediately had a contented look on his face having seen braised rabbit in a mustard sauce on the menu a dish he was relishing. He ordered it only to be told that it was no longer available. He was furious bearing in mind that it was only 8 o’clock in the evening and even more so when, to the consternation of all, he was told that alternative mains of a beef stew, a grilled dover sole, and ox tongue with boiled potatoes were also now, at this late hour, off the menu. I remember vividly him asking the waiter for a pen, gathering up all our menus and putting thick blue lines through all these now absent dishes, then, turning on the red faced waiter… ” What’s left ? ” Very little was the answer. I suppose we somehow muddled through on that occasion but, dining there more recently with four regular dining companions a similar problem arose. Not, on this occasion, of nothing left on the menu to choose from but, rather, a menu of 8 possible main courses of which only 1 was appealing to the table. The 1 was grouse and it was excellent. We asked, perhaps sacreligiously, for the grouse to be cooked medium and it was. I must say that the tendency to cook game so that it is almost bloody puts me off ordering, especially in restaurants where they say ” that’s the way we serve it “. I always want to reply ” well, that’s not the way I want to eat it”. I still have a memory of a table of Americans in what was a famous Parisian restaurant way back when, L’Archestrate of blessed memory, fulminating over a pressed duck out of which fresh red blood was being squeezed to make a sauce. Why ?, I asked myself.
But I digress, the grouse was roasted to perfection, served on a bed of creamy bread sauce and skeletons on plates were further testament to its excellence. It goes without saying that the premium starter at St John is the roast bone marrow with parsley salad and home baked toasted sour dough bread. Try as I might I have never managed to change my starter order over the years, but two of my friends opted for the fresh grilled sardines which were large meaty slightly oily and delicious with a squeeze of lemon. Desserts ranged from a tangy apple crumble through bread pudding with butterscotch sauce, a little on the sweet side for me, to the best of all, Eccles cake and Lancashire cheese, sweet and savoury combined. I say without fear of contradiction, the St John’s bakery make the finest Eccles cakes available and these can also be bought along with first class breads at the bakery counter.
Of course, there is a reason for a small contained menu that might not always please in that everything offered is fresh in that day and bought for an anticipated number of diners so, fair enough. The servers are charming and well informed and whilst the chairs might not be the most comfortable, I love the space for its whiteness.
My only caveat, like that of my lovely brother in law, was, that if the grouse had been off it would have been a real struggle.