St John started life as an anomaly – a strange, whitewashed restaurant on the wild outskirts of London. Today it is a monument to British food and to Fergus Henderson, the chef that championed sustainable nose-to-tail eating and inspired a generation.
26 St John St
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  • St John
    26 St John St , Barbican, UK, London , EC1M 4AY
    Restaurant reservations

    If you’re been to St John and walked past the entrance once or twice, don’t fret – you’ve joined a long list of people that have done the same thing. Truth be told, this is an odd site for a restaurant by today’s standards; the building is long, narrow and poorly lit, particularly in the winter, when the concrete walls and floors can seem a little cold. It seems a rather austere place on the surface, but underneath St John couldn’t be more warm and accommodating. As you walk into the dining room, a sign politely asks you to turn off your mobile phone. There is no music, no artwork on the walls. For the next two hours, you are encouraged to dedicate yourself to your food, your drink and your company and nothing more.

    For twenty-five years and counting, Fergus Henderson’s food has been the perfect soundtrack to this sort of conviviality. St John has gone from obscurity to an importance that cannot be overstated, but it hasn’t changed its colours along the way. The restaurant and dining room looks exactly the same as it did twenty-five years ago, albeit with a lick of paint – even some of the crockery and glasses have survived. Fergus’ himself is still a common presence at the restaurant – he has long since stopped cooking there, but he’ll often pop in for a spot of lunch and a chat with his staff.

    Fergus is not one for trends – he believes deeply in his nose-to-tail philosophy and the eternal companionship of seasonal ingredients, so it’s no surprise that the menu at St John hasn’t changed in twenty-five years. The roasted bone marrow and parsley salad – a fixture from St John’s very early days – is widely lauded as one of the greatest British restaurant dishes of all time. Comprised of roasted beef bones, a few slices of toast and a roughly chopped parsley and caper salad, it’s as close to perfection as any dish you’ll ever eat – a favourite of foodies and critics the world over, from Jay Rayner to the late, great Anthony Bourdain. Other offaly treats feature heavily – pigs ears, trotters, tongue, kidneys, liver, all perfectly cooked and served with ideal accompaniments. Also not to be missed is the pie for two, which can contain any combination of delicious things.

    St John leans heavily on French wine – Fergus and founding partner Trevor Gulliver have since established their own vineyards in France, and St John’s own bottles are consistently excellent. It may not look much from the outside, but a guns-a-blaze dinner at St John is a revelatory moment that everyone should experience.

    Three things you should know
    The St John building used to be a bacon smokehouse, and before that, it was the headquarters of Marxism Today.
    Aside from the restaurant, there’s also the St John Bakery and the bar, which are open longer hours and serve a more compact menu of St John classics, as well as loaves of their famous sourdough.
    You can buy copies of the St John books at the restaurant – if Fergus is around at the time he may even sign it for you.
    St John
    26 St John St , Barbican, UK, London , EC1M 4AY
    Restaurant reservations