Sitting slap bang opposite Spitalfields Market, St. John Bread and Wine is the creation of Trevor Gulliver and Fergus Henderson. It very much follows the ethos of their other Michelin starred restaurant St. John in Farringdon; simple precise cooking with plenty of offal on offer, all served in simple surroundings.
During our visit, on a particularly chilly Sunday evening, the dining room felt cold and breezy. If I didn’t think I’d have looked so silly, I would have left my coat on for our entire meal; even the open plan kitchen, which helped lift an otherwise sterile atmosphere, didn’t seem to add any warmth.
Some particularly good bread, which is made and baked on site, got things off to a more positive start and helped us quickly forget about our nippy tootsies.
To start, we decided to share two of the smaller dishes on the menu. The crispy pig skin and tarragon (£6.10) was superb; it wasn’t hard and crispy like crackling, instead these were thin strips of soft and chewy fat which were served warm; they reminded me of the pigs ears at Duck and Waffle. Their only downside was they got stuck in my teeth big time – but that was easily forgiven as the flavour was so good. The accompanying creamy tarragon dip along with the sliced gherkins and pickled fennel all made for a brilliant mouthful.
The quail and aioli (£8.90) was exactly that – a whole roasted bird atop a big dollop of punchy garlic mayo. This was simple cooking at its very finest; the flesh throughout was moist yet the skin was crisp and well seasoned. The addition of a wedge of lemon was a brilliant one as it cut through the richness of the meat perfectly.
For main, we decided to share the Dexter pie (£34) which took fifty minutes to bake, and it was worthy of the wait. The suet pastry was gloriously crunchy on top; it was like a savoury cookie – even after we’d finished I couldn’t stop picking off the little extra bits. Inside the pie were big chunks of tender beef cheek in a surprisingly light and clear gravy which was full to bursting with meaty flavour. Served with a bowlful of buttery and subtly mustardy greens, this could easily be one of my favourite meals – ever.
To top of our hearty feast, we shared the apple crumble and custard (£7) which was as satisfying as you could wish for; soft stewed apples with a sweet, crunchy crumble topping.
The food we devoured at St. John Bread and Wine was outstanding, the only thing that let the whole experience down was the service. Considering the dining room was only half full, we found it impossible to get anyone’s attention throughout the whole evening. The manager, who seriously lacked charm and charisma, plonked down our pie, yet didn’t remove our plates full of quail bones. It felt like no-one could be bothered, which is such a shame, as I thought I’d found my favourite new restaurant.