St John Bread & Wine, Spitalfields, London Review

July 16, 2015

Simple dining hall decor

Formal enough to repel the crowds of lagered likely lads and their buxom consorts who prowl this part of central London of a Friday, yet informal enough to dissuade those seeking only a quiet night in with their food, St John Bread and Wine is a genuine destination restaurant for those denizens of E1 for whom a good feed is the centrepiece of a good evening out.

Enter the Bear, being one such denizen.  St John Bread and Wine, as the little sister of the renowned “nose to tail” main restaurant in Smithfield, has an excellent and varied menu for hungry carnivores.  The Bear had a couple of starters.  Duck liver and foie gras on toast was rich, indulgent and dangerously moorish.  A whole quail served with celery and various other accoutrements yielded some good meat, but was cooked with so much salt that it detracted from the “quality”.  Yes, that’s a pathetic portmanteau of “quality” and “quail”.  And that criticism comes from a Bear that loves salt.

The main dish was a beef and marrow pie.  The meat was tender, the pastry crisp and flaky, and the juices rich and abundant.  It also came with a very ornate marrow spoon for that most wonderfully fatty and indulgent sliver of meat.  It was a good pie.  As it should be, really, for the thick end of £20 per head.  Regardless of the provenance of the livestock sacrificed for our delectation, a pie is a pie, and this was a very expensive one.  The Bear can hardly come to equity with clean hands, having been guilty of ordering it and having been charged not a penny more than the menu said, but it should be noted that St John Bread and Wine is not a cheap eat.  Cheap, no, but salty, yes.  The sides of potatoes and red cabbage were drenched in the stuff, just like the quail had been (and the beef too, albeit to a lesser extent).

The Bear’s appetite did not extend to dessert, but – again – this menu was extensive and alluring, as, among other things, a geographically consistent combination of Eccles cake and Lancashire cheese vied with a bread pudding and butterscotch sauce.

The Bear left St John Bread and Wine stuffed and happy, but wondering whether it had all been worth the better part of £100.  There had been little sign of the eponymous Bread, save for a fairly underwhelming slab of it at the outset, and the Wine – starting at £25 a bottle – was no less a tester of the Bear’s pecuniosity than the food.

St John Bread and Wine will neither live nor die by its reviews, least of all this half-baked attempt by the Bear.  It will thrive because it offers a setting that works for any occasion, be it a family dinner, a date, a meal with friends, or a business lunch (the Bear has a day job, and its boss is a regular), and its big brother has a reputation that spreads beyond these shores, having recently appeared at number 93 in a list of the world’s top 100 restaurants.  It’s just that the Bear just wants a little more bang, and a little less salt, for its considerable buck.

94-96 Commercial Street, London, E1 6LZ

St John Bread and Wine Spitalfields Outside Street View
Square Meal

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