Ask someone what they did last weekend and you’re usually met with a list of this and that. Sometimes though, there are answers that don’t require any elaboration. Things that are entire days and nights unto themselves. Like a family meal, or The Sopranos, or drinking two bottles of wine. A special type of restaurant can be like this as well. The kind where the name is all you really need to say. What did you do yesterday? We went to St. John.
St. John is an all-day, all-night, and all-seasons restaurant. Not because it’s open 24 hours. But because once you’re here, it’s all you’re doing. More importantly, it’s all you’ll be capable of doing. Ever tried going out-out after a trotter and pheasant pie? We don’t recommend it. Think you’re gonna have a super productive afternoon after eel, mash, bacon, and some rice pudding for good measure? Think again. Will anything you do afterwards be better than slugging black velvets alongside mouthfuls of terrine and crab on toast? No. No it will not.
That isn’t to say St. John is just a stuff you and roll you home kind of place. Instead, it asks what you want to do. It sits you down in its all-white dining room - the tablecloths a blank canvas for your day or night - lets you soak up some of the constant hum, whets your whistle, fills you with every part of animal and fish you can think of, and then asks: do you really want to go somewhere else? Really? The answer is invariably no. Which is why you invariably end up spending two hours here at the very least.
This restaurant is often referred to as an institution. Not because of its whitewashed, asylum-like aesthetic, but because of the ‘nose to tail’, eat the lot, approach to food that it popularised. It’s true that the menu, as stripped back as the walls themselves, plays a big part in this reputation. Roast bone marrow on toast followed by halibut with aioli, washed down with a slice of ginger loaf and a jug of butterscotch is not your average meal. Nor does any of it taste close to average.
But the food isn’t the main reason St. John is a London institution. The main reason is that this bar and restaurant does the simple things right. It will make you a proper cocktail, or pour you a fine pint, as you get through an egg mayo sandwich or some rarebit at the bar. It will seat a raucous group of you at 7pm, and still be asking if you want more at 11pm. It will make a pie (for two) that is quite clearly for more. That’s why when somebody asks what you’re doing next weekend, and you answer St. John, it needs no further explanation at all.
This slab is made up of white, pink, and brown bits. It’s every bit of meat and it’s every bit fantastic.
It sounds like an interpretative dance piece or a yoga pose, but it’s much more straightforward than that. This is simply extremely tasty crab on toast.
It may look a bit prehistoric, but the melty taste of this marrow on toast is so good that it never gets old.
Contrary to what you may be thinking, you can be vegetarian at St. John. These vinegary greens (not flowers) with caramelised shallots are excellent.
Meat is what you come here for mostly, but offal shouldn’t be optional. This thinly sliced ox tongue is a great starter point if anyone is a bit funny about it.
Despite the name, this is one of the most grown up plates of food on offer. There’s liver, heart, and some bits we’re not entirely sure of. They taste good though.
A monstrously brilliant creation, complete with a piece of bone marrow stuck in the middle. The pies here are supposedly for two, but it’s definitely more like four. However many there are of you, this is a must.
This can also come with smoked eel. Or sweetbreads. Either way it’s great.
There are variations of this depending on what fish is on, but the combination is absolutely delicious. Not to be missed.
St. John’s pièce de résistance. These are baked to order and make us nostalgic for the French childhood we never had. Once you smell and taste these beauties, you’ll know what we mean.
Sometimes it’s bread pudding. Sometimes it’s ginger loaf. The point is you’ll be wiping up that butterscotch sauce with madeleines, fingers, anything you can find.