The new St John Hotel restaurant will confirm all your prejudices. If you’re a fan you’ll be in heaven. If you’ve wondered what all the fuss was about you won’t be inclined to change your mind.
I’m somewhere between the two. There are always dishes I’m bowled over by and others I find ludicrously overpriced. In the latter category this time came tripe and onions* for £16.50, a price that would probably have bought you a small car 50 years ago, and a beef and onion pie for two for £34. Without vegetables. (Though when we pointed out at the end of the meal they could possibly throw in a few greens they did get the point) As you can see it was a fine pie but . . . come on, St John.
On the credit side Bacon & Snails, although heftily priced at £19 is a wondrous dish - a soupy snail-infused stew over a slice of toasted sourdough - and the suckling pig with its wickedly crisp crackling is sheer heaven.
Brown shrimp and artichokes with a whole egg perched on top is a genius combination, Veal tongue potato and mustard looks dull but is perfectly, piquantly dressed and sultana and marc ice-cream is a marvellously boozy reinvention of rum and raisin ice cream. (Starter and pud prices are perfectly reasonable)
We also managed to find room for chicken broth and dumplings, pigs head, rabbit and radishes, apple shortcake tart and bay leaf ice cream and ginger loaf and cider caramel, all pretty good.
There were a few teething problems as you'd expect from a restaurant that's only 3 days old. We were offered a special of pike pie and then told it was off by the time we ordered it (much grief) and the waitress brought our puds instead of our starters but such lapses are perfectly understandable.
The bill for four of us was £276 including service and two bottles of wine from the lower reaches of the wine list - an aligot and a natural Roussillon red, Mon P’tit Pithon - which is a LOT given the cost of the ingredients (though admittedly we had 5 mains). I know it couldn’t be more central (Leicester Square) and it’s a small restaurant but there is something slightly ironic about posh people paying over the odds for working class food in a canteen setting. I know I’ll go back though once I’ve recovered from the shock.
St John Hotel is at 1 Leicester St, London WC2H 7BL +44 (0) 203 301 8069
* mind you it was the only tripe dish I've ever enjoyed