Saturday, 16 April 2011

St John Hotel restaurant

This hotel restaurant, brought to us by Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver of St John fame, has been a long time coming. I've booked a table three times since December last year, only to be called and informed that they weren't ready to open. A long wait brings with it high expectations. That's why I hate queuing: impatience and disappointment don't suit me.

The wait was over, and I was famished. Taking my little boy, husband, and sister along for Saturday lunch, the first impression was that this dingy Leicester Square location doesn't sit well with the clean minimalist feel of St John. The hotel entrance has a hostel/ICU feel about it, with scuffed blue rubber floors and a dull utilitarian feel. But I didn't see the rooms, so I judge in haste.

The restaurant on the ground floor is a cool low-ceiling space, kitted out in the familiar St John style: the trademark coat pegs, whitewash walls, open kitchen, and sparsely set tables.

The first to arrive for lunch service, we were greeted by an orderly line of bums, as the staff were all leaning over the pass, chatting with the chefs. We were welcomed with a giggle, and the service continued to be faultless throughout.

The menu starts with three fish dishes, oysters, langoustines, and mussels. A tip o' the hat to Manzi's Fish Restaurant, which used to call the building home, then heads into familiar territory of the best of Britain, nose to tail (barley, brill, snails, tripe, pike, celeriac - you know the score).

We had, along with a refreshing Picpoul de Pinet and some very gluggable cider breton:

Lamb sweetbreads, broad beans, and artichoke £8.20. Beautifully soft and buttery. A great introduction to offal for the squeamish among you.

Pig's head croquette and chicory £7.50. The chicory added welcome bite to the rich deep-fried croquettes. Not very piggy in flavour, but satisfyingly creamy and rich, with a hint of briny smoke.

Bacon and beans (for two) £28. Expensive for a rustic cassoulet-style bake, granted, but worth it. Slices of pork cheek sat nestled in a mound of beans: this was soul food at its best, perfect for a hangover, and according to Jon, the best pig fat he's ever eaten (needless to say, the flesh was special, too).

Duroc pork chop, butter beans, and wild garlic £20. You might have noticed we're keen on all things porcine. While Jon and Helena shared the bacon and beans, I had this all to myself, a generous chop with a sweet hit from the caramelised fat and grill marks.

Custard tart £7.00. Incredible, perhaps the star of the meal. I need to know how they manage to make a tart that slices so perfectly, yet melts the moment it hits the tongue. Their pastry chef is a genius.

Chocolate terrine and Armagnac ice cream £8.50. Unashamedly rich, and a classic crowd pleaser.

Charlie happily chewed through a plate of their homemade sourdough and purple sprouting broccoli for two hours. We were never rushed, though the restaurant was surprisingly empty for a weekend lunchtime.

I've waxed lyrical about St John restaurants many a time. Suffice to say, I was pleased. At a cost of £130 for three of us, the meal had to be special. And this one was faultless.

For a review of the breakfast, check out Lizzie's (aka Hollow Legs) recent blog post. I've read about the breakfast buns, and asked if they had any left from morning service. They had run out. Next time, then.

NB: The bar and restaurant has a late licence, and takes last orders at 1:45am.

St. John Hotel on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 13 April 2011


Not another Mexican restaurant, I hear you cry.

Tex Mex and Mexi-can-only-try joints are littered across the capital, and most are doing their namesake no favours. Lupita, minutes from Charing Cross/Embankment stations, is the latest to have a go at exporting the 'authentic' Mexican experience.

Working on the Strand, there are dozens of chain outlets offering takeaway food, the best at the moment being Leon, or Wasabi, for a hot cup of soothing broth (though I don't rate their sushi). Having just become a working mother, I was keen to make the most of my free lunch hour before work consumed me, and headed to try out the new kid on the block.

I can't give the place a full and fair appraisal, as I had just one dish - an Arrachera steak burrito at £6.99 - but I was not blown away.

The service is chaotic. The small restaurant, with open kitchen, was only half full at lunch service, but the staff were all fingers and thumbs, running around aimlessly as people entering the restaurant shrugged and found themselves a table.

It took 25 minutes for them to make my takeaway burrito. And it was hardly worth waiting for. Limp and lazy, the bland beef was tasteless and reminiscent of chewing on damp wool (something we all do, right?), and the sauces were insipid.
I hesitate to write off the place on the basis of just one dish, but mealtimes and lunch budgets are a precious commodity, and I'd far rather sit down at Covent Garden's branch of Wahaca - a more organised, cheerful, and above all tasty, Mexican joint - than return for a repeat experience.

/Lupita-London">Lupita on Urbanspoon