They serve roast bones in London…

…as if it was a fashionable dish. I’ve crossed the Channel for a few days, as you might remember, and tonight I’ve been dining out at St. John restaurant off Smithfield market, one of the “hot tickets” in town. If you know Jamie Oliver, you’ll know all the rest: Pretty, aware people in a pseudo-authentic environment where food is served that you might call okay. Look at the picture below and tell me:  would you consider bone marrow a decent starter?

Forget about mad cows: funny bones at St. John.

The bones were followed by a generously thick, yet pretty tasteless (and luke warm) slice of lamb accompanied by an equally tasteless “green sauce”. As side dishes we had ordered potatoes – plus the thing you can see on the other picture below: they call it Welsh rarebit or rabbit in Britain, it’s sort of a rogue Croque Monsieur, a slice of toast covered with a slimy spread made of cheese and many other ingredients you don’t really want to know. “Very weird indeed” as my company put it and that is the least thing to say.

To make the New British food cliché complete the wine list is appallingly overpriced at St. John, as if they were using financial instruments only they understand. For a Château Pontet-Canet 2003, for instance, which I could buy in Paris for, say, 76 Euros a bottle (102 US$), they’ll charge you 125 pounds Sterling which equals 142 Euros (or 190 US$). What else can I say? Coffee was good…


  1. Gironeau

    Not all is that bad in London! Next time you cross the English channel you should try The Bingham here in Richmond.

    Shay Cooper who runs the restaurant might not be French and hasn’t even learned his cooking on the continent, but he recently won his first Michelin star for his fresh and unusual style.

    We enjoyed very much his tasting menu last weekend when he matched our cauliflower risotto with Rivaner from Luxembourg or the salmon course with Grüner Veltliner from Austria. After four hours of indulging we’ve left his restaurant full of praise and in very good spirits.

    In the summer on The Bingham river terrace you have lovely views of the Thames which were captured centuries ago by J.M.W. Turner and Augustin Heckel. Definately worth a try when you are in London next time. Come on, give English food another try 😉

    • Thanks, Gironeau,
      for this recommendation, must say though that I don’t really know wether “cauliflower risotto with Rivaner from Luxembourg” sounds tempting or not…will give British food another try, promised! 😉

  2. Gironeau

    You might laugh, but exactly these (brave) combinations makes Shay a great chef. Sure you can always walk on the save side of the road, but that’s mostly boring, isn’t it? Well, give it a go and let me know 😉

  3. terriblecook

    So sorry you found St John so awful. I don’t know the restaurant at all but certainly it is odd to read of a meal of marrow and Welsh Rarebit (nothing to do with rabbit incidentally) being such an expensive affair. Welsh rarebit, traditionally, is a very simple supper indeed – and yes, similar to croque monsieur, but perhaps a little more piquant with Worcestershire sauce or English ale – which brings a much richer flavour.

    It’s very hard to defend English cuisine against French … although if you go back a few centuries, the great kitchens in England were serving banquets intricate and flavoursome enough to rival anything offered on the continent; dishes including swan, quail, suckling pig, lamb, gooseberries, quince and roasted pears. If you go far enough back, “traditional English cuisine” becomes quite interesting. Then, after it died a death in suburban homes in the twentieth century, we had to borrow from the Italians, French, Indians … until again, we are inventing dishes of our own.

    But the truth is, any brilliant chef from any culture has always borrowed ideas and flvours from another … and, believe it or not, even from the English.

    post script: My daughter was cooking with her father today, creating a sauce to go with some orecchiette pasta. She’s a tentative cook and not really a foodie at all, but as they added ingredients – purely by taste (do you think it’s a little sour, shall we add some honey? – would oregano be nice? taste it, see what you think, etc) she really began to enjoy herself and understand something too as she looked about for ingredients in the garden and cupboard. “Cooking is like inventing something isn’t it” she asked. Yes exactly so.

    • I very much like your post script which reflects exactly what I believe in!

      Concerning St. John I would never say that I found the food “awful”. It wasn’t. Yet, every time I come to the UK (and try British food) I’m surprised by the real and obvious lack of culinary refinement. It’s about skills, I guess, about gastronomic knowledge, tradition, cultural depth.
      I mean – look again at the pictures I’ve posted, if your time allows it: the dishes really talk of grossness, coarseness, don’t they?
      Compare them – and there’s a thousand occasions in London to do it – to a Sushi or Tempura selection at a Japanese place, to a Chinese Dim Sum meal somewhere in town, to the elegant style of a classic French restaurant or the ambience even of a better Indian eatery… I really do think you have to come to the conclusion that British food and cooks look quite clumsy in such a beauty contest (and I say that as someone who really admires Britain and very much likes the British!).

  4. tonimoroni

    I wouldn’t normally bother responding to this kind of thing as your review sounds like Basil Fawlty on a bad day. Nonetheless, I was invited to do so by a friend of yours so blame him for what follows.

    The condescension in the title of your post beggars belief. You’d think the man who coined the phrase ‘S’il mouvoit on le mange’ wasn’t actually French. And you may not be aware that the author of ‘Kitchen Confidential’, Anthony Bourdain (you can guess his origins from his surname) has called the Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad his ‘death row meal.’ Hell, even Michelin, (need I point out where they’re from?) have awarded the restaurant one star and it currently stands at number 14 in the S. Pellegrino list of the 50 Best Restaurants in the World. But maybe that’s the Italians for you.

    Then we get to the expensive wines you can find so much cheaper in Paris. Do you actually understand restaurant economics? In the UK, virtually every high end restaurant serves food at a loss and marks up the wine they serve to make a profit. There is nothing sly or underhand about it; it’s just the way it works. You might as well complain that they sell single malt whisky by the glass for far more than it would cost to buy a bottle of it in the local off-licence. Yes, it’s true, but that’s not the point. Everyone accepts it as the price of doing business.

    You didn’t like anything you tried. I’m sorry about that but don’t presume your experience is typical of those who ensure the restaurant is fully booked out most evenings and Sunday lunchtimes.

    As I said at the beginning, I wouldn’t normally bother replying, but I would like to congratulate you on one thing: in this post at least, you have become a troll on your very own blog. Well done.

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