This once shabby looking district is booming and blooming. Spitalfields market, located in the old Truman brewery and the beating heart of it all, is worth a visit. I recommend going on Sunday for lunch around noon. Stalls selling second hand clothes, (Asian) food, organic smoothies and nic nacs then line the car-free streets in front of even more tiny shops run by young and ambitious designers. And there’s live music if you’re lucky.
St John Bread and Wine (London)
So there we were again one morning. Went for a chopped herring and salt beef ‘beigel’ breakfast at Brick Lane’s Beigel Bake, had coffee at Street Coffee next door (lovely cluttery place!) and then lazily strolled around the neighborhood for a couple of hours. So how about lunch? We track nearby restaurants on Tripadvisor and unanimously decide on St. John Bread and Wine. We walk down Commercial Street and enter without reservation.
The place is only half full and we get a table in the middle. The menu looks promising and so do the suggestions on the chalkboard. Drinks? We’re not attracted by the pricy wine list and since we got a train back home to catch right after lunch we find it best to stick to a bottle of water (£3,20) for now. FYI: it was only after returning home a foodie friend told me they apparently brew their own beer as well. Didn’t see that on the menu but it’s worth keeping that in mind for next time!Let’s move on to the menu. Or let me tell you first some crucial facts about this place. The chef behind it all is the famous Fergus Henderson. Why do I like this guy so much? He’s the one who made cooking with offal hot again! Those creepy bits people avoid, chef Henderson prepares them with respect and feeling. Read about his simple yet delicious creations before, God I’m excited! St. John is more than a bread and wine bar/restaurant. Bread is baked inhouse and can also be purchased in the restaurant’s bakery. Our eyes run across the menu: pig’s head stew (£8,30), sea bass for two (£36), smoked dexter (£16,30), old spot cheeks (£16,10), beetroot & horseradish soup (£6,90), goat’s curd and mint (£8,30). Suggestions: devilled middlewhite pork belly & aioli salad (£8,10), crumbed mutton & green sauce (£8,10), sweetbreads with peas and bacon (£8,10), foie gras & duck liver toast (£7,90), plaice with kohlrabi and chervil (£15,90). Difficult to decide so we take our time… Hubby goes for the pork belly salad. I definitely want the sweetbreads. But as the waitress approaches our table she removes them from the chalkboard. “No sweetbreads anymore?” I ask. Nope she says. Sold out. Dang. So I order the pig’s head stew instead. We sample the 2 kinds of homemade bread that were put on our table while scanning the menus. Delicious, what a treat! We look around us. The black and white interior is handsome. This used to be a bank before. The customers around us are mainly MIB. Quite a few people also walk in only to buy bread. Here are our meals. On hubby’s plate sits a good handful of crunchy fresh lettuce coated with a tasty garlicky aioli dressing. This is topped with crispy fried bits of pork belly, silky smooth on the inside. Melts in your mouth, marvellous! There’s also some fresh croutons hidden here and there. All this is garnished with watercress sprouts. An excellent and perfectly seasoned dish! Hubby was so overwhelmed he dug in before I could snap a picture… So what’s under my nose here? I got a deep plate with fresh watercress and on top of that a lovely portion of the most hearty looking stew ever. God, it smells beautifully! I can see carrots, potatoes (and turnips?) but the main component here is pieces of pig’s head. Fatty bits (ears and snout) mixed with extremely succulent meat such as the cheeks. Well seasoned again. I can taste a flavorful hint of mustard there as well. The stew is garnished with some pickled chicory and a walnut tapenade. Hubby is not very much into pig’s heads and such but still tries the stew and gives it an honest thumbs up. We enjoy our food, munch on more delicious bread and empty the bottle of water. The gentleman next to me apparently ordered the last portion of crispy fried sweetbreads with peas. God, they look absolutely to die for! We empty our plates and must admit we are stuffed already. But hubby’s eyes dart over the menu again after a minute. We choose one more dish, more out of curiosity than hunger. What should we order? Mr. Henderson really gives us a hard time. OK, the crumbed mutton & green sauce then. And there it comes after a good 5 minutes. The waiter also brings 2 plates. That’s very much appreciated! He also apologises for the mutton dish, saying it’s the last and smallest portion they got so this one’s on the house… Well thanks a lot! Hubby thinks I must have misunderstood the guy ’cause he didn’t hear him say that. Never mind. The crumbed mutton is in fact a mutton croquette. Thick crunchy crust on the outside, strongly flavored pulled mutton meat on the inside. The green sauce turns out to be a mixture of olive oil, fresh tarragon, parsley and baby capers. Simply. Delicious. As we look around we notice half of the tables have the same bottle as we do and the other half drinks water from a pitcher. Hubby beckons for the waitress and orders ‘tap water‘ this time. Out goes the empty bottle, in comes a pitcher now. It’s 2pm when we finish and see that the restaurant is almost empty now. However the moderate flow of people coming in to buy fresh bread doesn’t stop. Our plates are cleared from the table and I ask for the check. £20,20 plus service for a magnificent lunch for 2. The pitcher of tap water is apparently for free. And so is our crumbed mutton croquette…
St. John Bread and Wine
94-96 Commercial St