I’m not a big fan of falling out but when forced into such matters, boy, can I hold a grudge. Sometimes, the feeling is so strong that it remains with me long after the memory of the initial act itself (I am furious with Jude Law, Jennifer Lopez and Lulu, but have no clue why). My Fergus Henderson feud however is still very real and raw. I don’t think we can consider it a feud as it is one sided, but I’m trying to create drama goddamnit. Here’s the story:
Years ago, highly respected chef Fergus Henderson took part in a TV programme called ‘Could You Eat an Elephant?’ The 30 second trailer for the show had me on my feet, spinning and shouting ‘noooooooooooo’ with my arms and head turned to the sky as I rather dizzyingly answered this question. Elephants do kill lots of people each year in Africa, but I am convinced they are using a Dexter-esque code of honour and selectively stampeding the bad’uns (drug barons, poachers, those mean racist farmers) and therefore we should leave them to go about their important work. It wasn’t just elephants though, Fergus wanted to eat dogs too and perhaps even cats (I’d actually eat my cat. She doesn’t like me and is mean.)*
For years I’ve refused to visit his restaurant St John because of this very programme. It has a Michelin star, is widely regarded as one of the best dining establishments in the country and is our friend’s most loved restaurant but I’ve stood fast. Recently however, my anger started to wane. I found out he’s good buddies with April Bloomfield (my favourite) and after peeking at the menu one day (to check if there was any dog or elephant on there) I started to get a bit tempted.
A few months ago, I saw a picture of St John’s famous bone marrow dish and caved in. All of my moral codes fail when tested by bone marrow.
St John was not what I expected at all. It was incredibly informal and a bit rough around the edges. The dining room has the feel of a canteen; paper tablecloths, small tables and no side plates. I love an open kitchen especially one that contains a sheer hunk of a chef suggestively peeling shallots (he was a hunk, but perhaps wasn’t being suggestive).
Please note:hunky chef not in picture. He wasn’t a ghost chef.
The restaurant champions a nose to tail way of eating. I’d initially expected to struggle with the menu, which I did but for different reasons. The choice was amazing. Razor clams, guinea fowl, cuttlefish… The list was so vast and tempting I started swearing a little louder than is considered proper in a nice restaurant.
I of course had the bone marrow. Served in the bone, it was so delicious I wanted to eat it with a straw, sucking the goodness out like a liposuction procedure. Accompanied by toast and the most awesome parsley salad (I HATE parsley) this dish was something else. It was at this moment as the hubby stared over the table at me, my red face smothered in glee and grease, teeth scattered with parsley leaves, that he fell in love with me all over again.
Hubby had the brown crab on toast; incredibly rich but creamy and buttery.
Sweetbreads were served with minted broad beans and plump, salty bacon. The meat was packed full of flavour and still nice and soft. The gravy was so good that I reverted back to my northern roots and used my bread to mop it up like a spilt drink.
The saddle of rabbit might upset some diners as you could practically see the little bob tail sat on its rear. This came with a beautiful little salad made up of borlotti beans, shallots, carrot, garlic and lemon. Hubby felt no shame as he sat proudly with the empty rabbit carcass on his plate as if he’d shot it himself.
The chefs forgot our side of Welsh rarebit, but this was probably for the best. We were stuffed.
Not too stuffed to share a pudding though so we had the date loaf with butterscotch sauce; their take on sticky toffee pudding which was gooey and sweet if a little on the cold side.
There’s a wonderful drinks selection; the hubby made his way through the craft beer list and I, never being one to shy away from mixing my drinks, enjoyed some bubbles, wine and madeira.
My hostility towards Fergus was already melting when the man himself walked in. Watching him (in a none-stalkery, not weird way) chomp away on his salad with such a jovial air around him, I couldn’t help but change my mind. Perhaps I should have watched his programme before labelling him a Dumbo devourer, a doggy diner, a cat chewer (although he can eat my cat, if he wants).
The food at St John is incredible. Cave man fare of sorts and simplicity at its best. Like the early days of a relationship, the ingredients complement each other, not yet at the stage of shouting over one another. An equilibrium of eating. Yes, it’s famous for its offal, but there are plenty of options for the more sensitive of palate.
I can’t say enough about the service. They always seemed to be there just at the right time and were so warm and natural in their role.
So Fergus, you’re forgiven. You can have my cat, but just stay away from my dog.
*Please note I did not watch said programme and so cannot substantiate if Fergus ate any of aforementioned animals.
Disclaimer: I would not eat my cat. She is quite skinny.