1 Leicester Street
Breakfast: 7am – 10.30am
Lunch: Noon to 3pm
Supper: 5.30pm – 2am
Tel: 020 3301 8020
I always associate Easter time with eating, far more than Christmas for some reason. What with the Royal wedding giving us an extra few days off work, there is no better time to explore London restaurants, old and new.
St John Hotel has finally opened its doors on the edge of Leicester Square in the heart of London. Housed in the former Manzi’s Fish restaurant, this unassuming corner townhouse lies in the shadow of the vulgar W Hotel.
The hotel layout is bizarre. Maybe the architect had been the fan of The Borrowers when a child but the lobby and all adjoining spaces feel cramped and narrow. The decor has an air of Dutch or Scandinavian influence with the clean lines and the boxy rooms with their white walls, acrylic carpets and porthole windows. Standing there, one could imagine themselves in the Customs area of a Swiss airport.
We headed to the first floor bar for a sharpener before dinner. The airport theme continued with the bar reminding me of a business class airport lounge. A free copy of Wallpaper magazine and CNN, muted, on in the background was all that was missing. The bar is in the corner of the room with red leather sofas arranged along the far wall with coffee tables in between. Drinks are priced for the sort of people who normally turn left rather than right when embarking a plane.
Fergus Henderson is famed for his nose to tail eating and the menu here keeps this up. The menu is short with a number of dishes jumping off the menu at you asking to be picked. The three of us decided to get a few starters to share between us. A pressed pigs head with radishes was a terrine of brawn that was similar to that you would find at Terroirs. A chicken broth and dumplings was pleasant but just that. The clear broth had good flavour but I wouldn’t serve it to any Jewish mothers I know. Pricey too at £8. The lamb sweetbreads with artichoke and butter beans came top of the class out of the starters. Sponge like sweetbreads were succulent and the butter beans and artichoke added that extra dimension in terms of texture as well allowing the sweetbreads to soak up their juices.
To follow, a suckling pig for two with a watercress salad and roast potatoes works out at £25 a head. Quite pricey for a bit of pig belly and ribs but it was some of the tastiest pig I have eaten in a while and the portion size justifies the price. Snails and bacon consisted of juicy Herefordshire snails with large chunks of smoked bacon. It is nice to see that kitchens are starting to respect snails more rather than douse the poor little creatures in garlic butter and be done with them. Bruno Loubet, Anthony Demetre and now Fergus are championing the snail. That doesn’t necessarily mean a plate of snails are now worth £19 though?
My dinner companions were two wine experts so the wine list was carefully inspected. St John House wines are at the top of the list at £26 a bottle; too steep an entry price for my liking. For white we opted for a bottle of Edelzwicker 2008 from Alsace and to follow a bottle of Beaumont 2008 Chinon from the Loire. £34 and £42.50 respectively.
St John Hotel has landed in the West End. A little like how a no frills airline takes you miles outside the city centre they are supposedly flying you to, I would prefer to end up East at St John Bread and Wine, despite the convenience of now having a St John right on my doorstep in the West End.
Meal for two with wine and service £130