Thursday, 9 June 2011

Post number seventeen, 'My stay at the St John Hotel'

My love of all things 'Nose to tail' has never faltered. Since my first visit to Smithfield HQ in late '94 when I was astounded by the brilliant, raw, stylish simplicity of the food and the space I have revisited and generally watched with interest the development of brand 'St John'. I am a vehement disciple.

I was therefore 'chomping' at the bit to get down to the new Hotel. This visit was postponed several times due to building delays but I finally got my chance the other week to eat dinner there, sleep and eat breakfast the next morning.

I arrived about 7pm, the location is quirky for a St John establishment, literally off Leicester square, a very commercialised setting/environment. Check in was delightful assisted charmingly by Michelle; I scurried up to the room and I suppose first impressions were rather disappointing. The room was quite small and the bathroom was actually part of the room, maybe I was expecting a touch more for the three hundred and twenty pounds cost. I had a good nose around the room checking out the bits and was all very proper and the finishings of everything were of a very high standard. Penhaligans toiletries, great mini bar and of course the most amazing room service menu I have ever seen, if you like St John that is. The pegs that adorn the walls in smithfield are cleverly used as a feature throughout the hotel, I liked that. I headed downstairs to the bar thinking this is all very exciting and that the room albeit a little small room was quite cool.

The bar itself is hidden away down at one end of a long, rather austere room. The layout of the building clearly determined this but it seems rather cut off, if, like me you take a seat at the opposite end. There was one other couple sharing a drink together and it all felt rather uneasy and somewhat lacking in a bit in atmosphere. No matter it was all very intriguing.

Downstairs for dinner then, what a contrast to the bar up stairs, it was buzzing. We sat near the front of the room, kitchen end. It is a similar space to St John bread and wine but obviously a bit more modern, a wee bit smaller too; Beautiful wooden floor, steel kitchen bar and wine racks, classic St John dark wood tables and chairs, pristine white table cloths, peugeot salt and pepper mills, perfect.

The food was fabulous; we all started with a couple of native oysters, only ever natives are served at St John. They were perfect, a delicious taste of the sea. Next for me sweetbreads with butter beans & wild garlic; pleasingly caramelised glands with a gorgeously giving, light interior.....the fragrance given by the herbs and further nuttiness of the butter beans made it a dish to behold.
Other starters around table were the pigs head terrine, impressive looking langoustines with the superb St John mayonnaise(for me St John's condiments/sauces/dressings are simply the best I taste, aioli, mayonnaise, ketchup, tartare sauce, vinaigrette, mustard or anchovy salad dressings, green sauce all serious, properly made examples). A top drawer Alsace white was excellent with our starters.

Main courses were beans and bacon, a sharing dish of unctuous joy, a strongly dressed watercress salad the perfect companion. Suckling pig loin, Rump of beef, roast potatoes, burgundy, the table was a happy place. This dining room is definitely more hectic than it's two relations but it is chinatown and in a way I liked the slightly frantic buzz.

To finish, at St John one must have desserts, it is the finest desert menu in the land, Sundae and ginger cake were shared. Both brilliant, the Sundae was sort of deconstructed, it looked so pretty and tasted equally good. The ginger cake was sticky, spicy, sweet and purposeful.

Time for the bill, which definitely seemed slightly higher than Smithfield and SJ B & Wine, but for the fantastic meal I was more than happy. To do it properly, three courses and good wine, St John Hotel restaurant is one hundred pounds a head, to be honest that seems a benchmark figure in good London restaurants nowadays. 

After dinner drink was next up, sadly with the experience pre dinner the bar upstairs didn't feel like an option; we tried to get into the garish 'w' hotel that sits in front of the St John hotel but we didn't pass muster on the door, Dean street town house provided a most agreeable solution. 

Returning back to the hotel I couldn't resist anther peep in the bar on the way up to our room, still empty, another drink seemed in order. Sipsmiths Gin and tonic, Campari and white wine, ooof we were on a roll by this point. We stood at the bar and happily engaged with the staff. There seemed to be a general consensus the bar needed some tweaking.

Bed! After initial crashing and burning I was awoken by the collection of bins or bottles outside(rather unfortunate the bin positioning by the restaurant but again space dictates)and also by the brightness in the room. The white venetians do little to prevent daylight/sunlight streaming through, maybe some black out would be in order behind the venetians. Ablutions in the open plan bathroom take place in front of the person who is with you in the room(if anyone is). This is fine for acquainted couples but no doubt slightly more awkward for ones in the early throws of courtship. Everything in the room oozed quality, the bath fittings, robes, towels, mats all branded with the synonymous pig.

Feeling slightly rough my heart and head was steadied by the thought of breakfast, I had high hopes. Into the ship like centre staircase, down in the lift, into the dining room, it was a much more sedate scene in the morning. Papers on hand, a few couples dotted around including Trevor Gulliver (Fergus was in the night before for dinner, they both keep a very watchful eye on front end proceedings) the menu is short and as always with St John, although classical in someways, often shy away from the obvious so no full english here. Instead smoked haddock, potato & egg, devilled kidneys on toast, ham, egg and fried bread provided the cooked options. I had Ham, egg & fried bread, it was very good, perfectly fried deep golden eggs, griddled succulent ham and just right fried bread. Corinne has the devilled kidneys, a generous amount nestling on the slab of sourdough, also perfect. Tea was good, we had ordered the 'buns', a kind of cross between a danish pastry and a croissant, very good, rich and buttery, a bit too much with our cooked breakfast. No matter they were wrapped and we took away to have for afternoon tea.

The bill for breakfast fifty pounds...again slightly pricey but I enjoyed every moment.

So around 11am we checked out, a fair degree worse off in the pocket but very happy to have spent a night with St John. I will be back for breakfast, Lunch and dinner no doubt. The restaurant offers a fresh, updated St John dining experience in the west end, I am sure the menu's will expand as time goes on, already there are exciting additions to the breakfast and dinner menu's. The bar needs something(maybe just more people or bar stools) and the rooms themselves possibly don't offer great value for money but they are unique and I'm sure there will be no shortage of takers. The service from beginning to end was first class. I really enjoyed seeing the St John philosophy adapted into a new entity such as a works.

Long live the pig!

restaurant five out of five stars

rooms three out of five stars

St. John Hotel

 1 Leicester St, London, WC2H 7BL

+44 (0) 203 301 8069  -