Saint John Street
020 7251 0848
Grilled Jerusalem Artichoke, Red onion & Olive
Snail, Sausage & Chickpea
Grilled Ox Heart, Lentils & Kale
Rum & Raisin Ice Cream
1976 Robert Ampeau Volnay Santenots 91
The St. John Smithfield restaurant opened in October 1994 and
has been considered a London staple ever since. Happily, for someone like me who
spent most of his life growing up in Rome where quinto quarto (offal) is a way of life, St.John specializes in
offal and cuts of meat most people don’t think of eating. I’m a real sucker for
trippa, animelle (ris de veau for the
Francophiles among us), and oxtail stew (the latter also known as rigatoni
sauce, as in Rome’s classic rigatoni al
sugo di coda), so St.John’s is right up my alley. And though the restaurant
is rather famous nowadays, there are some things worth knowing:
1. Cell phone use is not permitted in the restaurant:
this is just as well since the happy din of the place would make it virtually impossible
for you to hear anything being said on the other end of the line.
2. Though world famous as a haven for offal
enthusiasts, the most recent menu at St.John’s made a dessert lover such as
myself smile from ear to ear: in addition to eight appetizers and seven mains,
there were–count’em- thirteen desserts (fourteen, if you pay the extra £3 to upgrade your freshly baked madeleines from
a six to a twelve pack. Allow me to say that the latter is the way to go).
3. In true French bistro style, the wine list is
eclectic, full of wines from sleepy little appellations and less than famous
producers, with a few exceptions. And also in typical bistro style, the wine
service is unpretentious, as is the stemware, which was not exactly something
to write home about.
On this evening, my meal at
St.John’s started off with a hot lamb broth that could have used an extra dash
of salt and pepper, but was hearty and satisfying, while the Jerusalem
artichoke preparation was rich and complex.
Snail, Sausage & Chickpea
The friend I was dining with chose
to eat ox heart, something I’m not too keen on, but it was well cooked and
lifted by a robust helping of greens. The snail, chorizo and chickpea stew was
a spicy standout, truly country and winter fare at its best: I loved it, and
thought it the best dish of the night, by far.
And what to drink with
such robust food? A bottle of the 1976
Robert Ampeau Volnay Santenots turned out to be just what the doctor
ordered. Ampeau’s wines develop at a glacial pace, and this beauty was no exception.
Youthful red in color, it offered bright red cherry and floral aromas with more spicy (however closed), brooding
flavors on the palate. The red cherry and dark berry fruit were shrouded
beneath a very firm but polished cloak of tannins. As the wine was still closed
and unyielding, with noteworthy but balanced acidity providing freshness and
lift, it seems to be frozen in time, floating in some sort of vinous (no pun intended) suspended animation. The
terroir of Santenots (characterized by a thin, red, iron-rich, heavy clay soil
lying just above subsoil of hard limestone) tends to result in bigger wines
than is typical for Volnay, so it’s more than likely Ampeau’s winemaking style
and the nature of the 1976 vintage (a hot, dry summer
led to powerful, tannic wines) that account for this wine’s personality.
Impressively, this remarkably youthful wine exhibited no roasted or cooked
aromas and flavors, and matched extremely well with the lamb broth, the stew
and the heart preparations. When I finally got up from my seat, thankful for
both the food and wine, I found myself already looking forward to my next visit