A great dinner at St John
Just on the way back from a remarkable evening at St John, with my long term wine buddie Yixin Ong from Singapore and some of his friends. We were six, and one of the things that contributed to it being an excellent dinner was the fact that we shared all the dishes, passing them round after eating a bit of each.
St John lends itself well to this sort of informality. Diners are packed in, in relatively basic surroundings: people come for the food, not the ceremony of crisp tablecloth restaurants.
Starters were several. Broad Beans and Berskwell (a hard sheep's cheese) worked really well. Ducks' hearts were also excellent (below). Cured beef and celeriac brought the tastebuds to life, while roast bone marrow (top) is a St John staple that is richly delicious. Of the mains, tripe, peas and bacon was probably the stand-out dish. Blood sausage topped with two fried eggs was wonderfully eccentric, and chitterlings and lentils worked very well. I wasn't too keen on the rather dry rabbit saddle and wild garlic; nor did the pigeon (rare) and radishes overwhelm. But the calves liver, bloody and tender, was really impressive.
As if this wasn't enough, we went big on puddings. Eccles cake and Lancashire cheese was my favourite – a brave combination that went together very well. Ginger loaf and butterscotch sauce was nicer than it sounds, and rhubarb jelly, shortcake and clotted cream was delicious. Apple and calvados cake with icecream was nice but not spectacular, but the execution of the madeleines was almost perfect.
Wines? We began with Eric Texier Brezeme Rousanne 2007 from the very good (exclusively French) St John list. Then we did two northern Rhone reds: a beautiful St Jospeh 1997 from Vincent Gasse, which was lively, meaty and expressive; and a more subdued but still elegant Cote Rotie Bassenon 1997 from Cuilleron. These were followed by a Trimbach Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive 1997 that was fat, honeyed and quite rich. All three 1997s came from Yixin's university stash at Oxford, the last of which he has only just liberated from the college cellars where they were being stored for him.