The best excuse ever to eat eye popping amounts of pork is to gather together 18 of your closest friends and book a whole pig at St John Restaurant in Farringdon. You really do need to book the pig in advance. A deposit of £320 at least a week before your meal to reserve the pig which we affectionately began to refer to as Percy. Yes, Percy would die for our eating pleasure however where else but St John’s to best appreciate and pay tribute to the life of the pig. The head chef at St John Restaurant, Fergus Henderson, is the champion of the concept of ‘nose to tail’ eating. We could be sure that every part of the pig would be appreciated in all it’s glory and used and consumed right down to the last trotter.
For the privilege of eating a whole pig our group is allocated the private room at the front of the restaurant. Just around the corner from the Smithfield meat markets, the austere white washed walls of the restaurant and the waiters clad in butchers aprons are a nod to the area’s continuing carnivorous traditions. The bone marrow served with parsley salad is St John’s signature dish so I have no intention of passing up an opportunity to sample the bone marrow despite the lashings of pork that was to follow.
You are presented with a very primeval looking assortment of bones (pictured) and the idea is to scoop out the marrow from inside the bones, spread it on the accompanying pieces of toast and finish with a sprinkling of sea salt and parsley. If you are a lover of lard this is the dish for you. The dark unctuous bone marrow is speckled with glistening pieces of fat creating a spread for your toast like no other. The marrow is incredibly rich and after two pieces of toast I am done. I must admit that it does go rather nicely with the bottles of pinot noir that we are making short work of.
For the less adventurous you can choose squid as a starter. Served in large platters mixed with wedges of fennel and green sauce the squid is fresh, light and a welcome alternative for those who are squeamish enough about Percy without wanting to suck their starter from the inside of pieces of bone. However, there is no avoiding the fact that we are eating a whole pig as Percy is brought to the table by our waiter balanced on a large metal tray. The pig’s skin is golden and glistening and the aroma of roasted pork sparks a Pavlovian reaction.
Our waiter expertly carves the pig at the table putting all who have hesitated before a leg of lamb for a Sunday roast to serious shame. Huge platters are filled with mounds of mouth watering pork meat, crispy skin and stuffing soaking with the juices from the meat. The pig is accompanied by simple bowls of boiled potatoes and cabbage. It has to be the best pork that I have ever tasted. It is so moist and flavoursome. The bone marrow may have been an interesting, perhaps one off experience but the whole pig is something you wish you could repeat on a weekly basis.
The desserts on offer reflect the simplicity and honesty with which all the dishes at St John Restaurant can be characterised by. A huge slab of dense chocolate terrine is served with creme fraiche and bloated stewed prunes. The terrine is ridiculously rich and even the serious chocoholics at the table struggle to finish it but I don’t hear any complaints from them. A big platter of assorted cheeses served with some crisp bread and raisin bread is the perfect way to end the meal.
St John Restaurant has just been awarded its first Michelin star and there has been some debate over this award. Sure the white tablecloths at St John Restaurant are covered with paper and the typical Michelin fare of amuse bouches and palate cleansers are thin on the ground. However, the food at St John Restaurant has created an impact around the world and brought a particular type of British cooking back into prominence. Judging by our feast of pig it is a Michelin star that is well overdue.
Details: 26 St John Street, Smithfield EC1M 4AY, (Ph 020 7251 0848)
If you liked this you may also be interested in reading about my meal at Hereford Road in Notting Hill which is run by one of Fergus Henderson’s proteges. If you are in the area and not in the mood for offal try Vinoteca for great wine and simple dishes directly across the road from St John Restaurant.