Saturday, March 04, 2006

Mr Henderson presents...


I've ranted and raved a fair bit about Fergus Henderson over the lifetime of this blog. As is the case with most food loving males I get very over excited by the man's ability to revitalise seemingly moribund British food and bits of animal with a simplicity that borders on the pathological. I always find that this is very masculine cooking, not that his menu doesn't feature moments of delicacy or comfort* , and very British cooking, in thought, as well as in execution. There is a brevity in the language of the menu, a starkness to each plate that just appeals to the workman side of my brain.

As I bounced into the restaurant last night in anticipation of another meal where I would be quite possibly the happiest boy at the table, I was confronted by the site of a whole suckling pig being presented to two large tables of people. Lucky buggers. I could see it resting in the kitchen after it had been paraded about and it looked bronzed, crispy and noble. Jealousy subsiding I sat down with the girlfriend and some mates.

Looking at the menu I was confronted with the issue of whether to go for the marrow bone and parsley salad again or branch out. The marrow bone dish is the signature starter and quite possible the singularly most surprising thing you can put in your mouth in polite company. There were a few other dishes that caught the eye, a rather biblical sounding Salsify, Leeks and Watercress and a Mutton Broth. I went with the marrow bone. I knew I would, there is simply nothing quite like it, the crunch of the sourdough bread, the meaty and yielding texture of the marrow coupled with the bitterness of the parsley and the punch of the wet salt.

There was no competition with the mains to be honest. As soon as I saw the words Faggot and Celeriac I was sold. In many ways it is the kind of dish that people expect at St John. An enormous meat ball made of pig liver and heart mixed with grains and veg and wrapped in pig's caul. This is so intense, not really offal, but an intense meat and pepper flavour. The celeriac worked beautifully with it, the aniseed notes a perfect accompaniment. A friend of ours had cold roast beef and it was some of the most beautiful looking meat you'll have ever seen. The texture of velvet and practically scarlet.

Dessert was one of the pictured** Eccles Cake with a vast slab of Lancashire cheese. A lovely combination of the copious sweet currents and pastry in the cake with the soft creamy tartness of the cheese and half a dozen freshly baked madelaines which just taste of childhood. That warm simple sponginess of childhood cooking projects.

Another faultless meal at St Johns. I know I am biased and that some find the whole experience at the restaurant too stark but really St John proved itself once again to be the restaurant I would most like to own. Pity Fergus Henderson got there first.

* For those of a feminist bent, I am in no way suggesting that delicacy and comfort are the only female characteristics, only that in opposition to great hunks of offal they may seem so, actually no that's wrong. Ok, I'm going to leave the gender politics to cookiecrumb.

** Neither of these pictures was mine. Great aren't they? I nicked them of the St John website.


Liz said...

I get very over excited by the man's ability to revitalise seemingly moribund British food

Sounds like it's worth getting excited over- I enjoyed my time at Oxford, but British food is not exactly known for being either varied or particularly pleasing to the eye. That said, simplicity can be perfection as the dishes you describe can well attest.

Looking forward to your next entry!

Barbara said...

Ohh I love marrow bone. I've even cooked it for a dinner party. A friend once ordered it in a Paris restaurant thinking it was a dish containing a zucchini style marrow. We ended up swapping meals when he realised what it was.

cookiecrumb said...

Reporting for duty, SIR!
OK. Ahem:
I like putting naughty things in my mouth.
(And I have a sack of marrow bones in my freezer.)

GastroChick said...

I completely understand where you are coming from with the bone marrow dish conundrum. St john's is one of my favourite london restaurants,(i live two minutes walk away) I eat there regularly, and 9 times out of 10 order the bone marrow dish, nothing beats it, although sometimes I wish I could be a bit more adventurous.

Your sentiments regarding the overall experience mirror mine exactly. Personally I adore the zen like austere nature of the dining room, the interesting, eclectic crowd and most of all the food which shines in its simplicity.

Great review

Sam said...

marrow bone makes me feel sick. I wanted to like it of course, but I tried it and I wanted to throw.

Well, at least I am able to eat pigs trotters, anchovies, beef heart and chicken liver these days, so i am not a total wimp.

Of course, bone marrow might still be better than my mum's version of 'stuffed marrow' - an entirely different beast. And I mean beast - have you seen the size of those things?

Erin Eats said...

Fergus Henderson was featured on a TV show here a while back, a New York chef visited Henderson's restaurant and was very, very happy with his dinner consisting of marrow and pig tails. I have to admit, the entire spread looked fantastic.