07/23/12 - 0 Comments
London’s St. John Restaurant: A Q&A with Co-Owner Trevor Gulliver
Vegetarians beware: this piece will feature all the carnivorous delights of one of London’s most prized restaurants. Though it’s no newbie to London’s foodie scene, or being among San Pellegrino’s “World’s 50 Best Restaurants,” St. John in London’s Smithfield Market has been an outrageously successful pioneer in “nose to tail” eating since 1994.
“Nose to tail” really is just what it sounds like—no part of the animal is spared. So, naturally, we thought it the perfect choice for a birthday dinner. We started with the freshest langoustines we’ve eaten in ages and also ordered St. John’s signature dish—the bone marrow.
Made from veal and served with toast, parsley and rock salt, this was by far one of the most surprisingly tasty dishes of the evening, its raving reputation well-earned. For the main course we had the guinea fowl—a really nice blend of white and dark meat served simply with slices of zucchini and a light gravy— and the pigeon. We also had a bottle of the restaurant’s own 2007 Claret, which went nicely with every course. But St. John isn’t just good for its meat; if you can save a bit of room for the Madeleines at the end, you’ll be in for a real treat.
Though St. John is now in its 18th year, its menu is as rapidly evolving as ever, at the mercy of the day’s best ingredients. If you’re into presentation, lots of flavors and a certain level of ambiance, there are plenty of other London restaurants eager to fit the bill. St. John is all about its simple, top-quality meat cooked to perfection. Located inside a former smokehouse, the interior maintains its original industrial vibe with white, steel-bolted walls and high ceilings in the bar area. Somehow the lack of music and art on the walls add its own kind of endearing atmosphere. You know what they say about a successful mealtime experience—here it truly is all about the company and the cuisine.
We grabbed a few minutes with co-owner Trevor Gulliver, half of the St. John duo with chef Fergus Henderson. The two have since expanded their London takeover with the St. John Hotel in Leicester Square as well as St. John Bread and Wine. Gulliver is the successful business mastermind behind Wine Wharf in Borough Market and Putney Bridge before joining forces with Henderson and his “nose to tail” philosophy. Gulliver reveals what’s changed since then, what his favorites are and what’s next on the horizon for the St. John empire.
St. John has been going strong for about 18 years now, how do you think “nose to tail eating” has evolved since then?
For us, everyday brings changes. The rigor we apply provides a backdrop against which we work—we stick to our principles yet it’s happily surprisng how our menus continue to develop.
Do you think Americans and Brits tackle the concept differently?
Yes and no. Sometimes there’s a bit more testosterone with the chefs in the States, going a little overboard to make a point of difference (not that that doesn’t happen here!).
How do you decide the changing daily menu?
Simply what nature provides each and often during the day—birds on the wing, fish caught, vegetables coming into readiness— meanwhile we might be dry hanging, smoking, brining. All is a work in progress if you will. The way we work in a dynamic environment is all we know, and it’s a great environment for young folks to come into.
I’ve only been once, but I have to say that the bone marrow was my favorite. Do you have a personal favorite dish?
Ah, you see, as we follow the days of the year, there are many: gull’s eggs, that brief time when the first English asparagus comes, the first grouse that leads a cavalcade of game birds through to the new year and many more.
Photo credit: Patricia Niven