I was thinking about some of my favourite dining experiences… and out of nowhere, St. John came to mind, and just wouldn’t leave.
I think I probably first heard of Fergus Henderson through our pretty loyal viewing of Anthony Bourdain shows. (And no, I don’t think he’s The Shit. He’s just a guy who makes TV that we’re interested in. And writes books we’ve enjoyed, thus far. It’s possible to like someone’s work without going apeshit for them, you know.) I found Bourdain’s interview with Henderson particularly interesting, perhaps because of his serious fascination with his nose-to-tail philosophy, or an admiration for his attitude toward his Parkinson’s Disease, or some kind of combination of the two. Unassuming, stoic, matter-of-fact, straight up.
So yeah, when we were in London in 2012, we made sure we had a reservation at Fergus Henderson’s establishment, St. John.
We’ve been at much fancier places… in fact, the night before, we’d been at The Ledbury. Which was amazing in a completely different way and I’ll totally tell you about that sometime. But right now, ultimately, it’s St. John that’s on my mind.
The space is so interesting… I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be somewhat like an abattoir, or what… but I was surprised to find it much more casual than I was expecting. Basically rough concrete, whitewashed. That was the impression I had. I’d never dined anywhere like it. I’d BEEN someplace like it… ha, the milkhouse of the dairy barn on the farm I grew up on! My dad always whitewashed the interior. Sooooo it’s kind of like there was a down-home connection in my mind between family farming and nose-to-tail dining. It made sense in a strange way and it made me love it more.
Andrew had bone marrow to start…
I think you have a pretty good idea of what bone marrow is. Apparently it’s super-healthy, lots of nutrients! Check out that pile of exquisite salt. Spread a little bone marrow on a corner of bread, sprinkle on a pinch of salt, take a bite. I’ll be honest… I’ve had this before. On the farm. As a kid. Loved it then, loved it now.
And I had chitterling salad with dandelions. I love saying “chitterling”. Such a delightful word!
Chitterlings are the small intestines of a pig. This past summer, I had intestines again, in Johannesburg. I’d been eager to do so, because my experience with chitterlings at St. John. Let me tell you, the two were NOT comparable AT ALL. The chitterlings at St. John were tender and unusual and had that delicious pork flavour. Best salad! (I know I’m making my vegetarian friends cringe, but hey, c’mon, you KNOW I’m carnivorous!)
In an effort to order some kind of vegetable-based dish, we also ordered this dish:
I do not for the life of me remember what that is. Obviously something cabbagey. Looks delicious. I’m sure we liked it well enough. But it was seriously overshadowed by the arrival of our mains — Andrew’s black pudding…
I’m assuming you know what black pudding is… but just in case you don’t, it’s a cake made of pig’s blood. It also includes ingredients such as onion, mace, allspice, polenta, duck fat, pork back fat… but it’s the pig’s blood that’s the star. And the perfect eggs on top, that run all over that luscious cake when you break the yolk. Heaven on a plate.
And I had lamb sweetbreads with turnips and bacon. I had a very difficult time sharing with Andrew. I love love love sweetbreads! I mean, with a name like that, who wouldn’t?
But right… yes, sweetbreads are not sweet, nor are they bread. For the longest time, I’d thought sweetbreads were the thalamus gland (brain) of a cow or pig or what have you. Turns out that is not the case. They’re actually the pancreas or throat (thymus… which is probably how I became confused).
I love eating animal organs. This no doubt harkens back to my farm-girl days when our family didn’t have a lot of money… but I had a huge appetite. And my mom’s an awesome cook. Equals Erin enjoying the taste of animal organs. BUT I have learned to not be too cocky about this. I am NOT Anthony Bourdain. It is VERY possible for me to wretch over an organ… let’s say, if it’s not cooked properly (gag). Sometimes I find myself boldly announcing to all within range of hearing that I’ll eat ANYTHING. I’ve found out the hard way, this is simply not true. BUT I certainly do enjoy animal organs much more than most of the people I’ve ever, ever known. And at St. John, it’s an art that is perfected. You cannot go wrong. The only regret we really had, is that we became full and had to stop eating. Alas.
Andrew must be very glad I love him so much. That is the ONLY reason I shared with him. I loved this dish. The truth is, I still occasionally daydream about it.
And then, dessert. Because why not. Andrew had the eccles cake and old English cheddar.
I have to say… I love sweets and all, but I do not get it. I do not understand eccles cakes. I don’t get why it’s such a treat to have one. The raisins and whatever else is inside, that’s just not my favourite.
I ordered ginger cake with butterscotch sauce.
I licked my plate clean. Guess that’s the farm girl in me, coming out again. NO REGRETS!
In hindsight, the only thing I might do differently, is order another dish of who-knows-what-animal-part, instead of dessert. I might’ve loved my cake… but it’s the nose-to-tail that Fergus Henderson is passionate about, and those animal parts are the star of St. John, London. So if you go — make sure to order the sweetbreads and think of me! Then tell me all about it. I’ll be madly jealous.