St John Bread & Wine is all about excellent unpretentious food in an equally laid back setting.A few friends and I visited the First Thursdays event at the beginning of October. Every first Thursday of the month, East London’s art galleries stay open until late. We decided to visit a string of galleries starting from Old Street, working our way down towards Commercial Street, so it made sense to end the evening with a 9pm reservation at St John Bread & Wine, which is located opposite the Old Spitalfields market.
St John Bread and Wine is the sister restaurant of the Michelin starred restaurant St John in Clerkenwell. Similar to its big brother St John, Bread & Wine champions the use of local and seasonal produce. They also support the idea of using “the whole beast”; that is, preparing dishes using animal parts which, in their opinion, are needlessly discarded. The menu at Bread & Wine changes on a daily basis. The majority of the menu items are starter sized, and guests are encouraged to order these to share family-style. We decided to order six small dishes and a roasted grouse. Instead of all the food arriving together, dishes arrived at our table as they were ready.
The first two dishes to arrive were the butter beans with cauliflower & leeks, and the beetroot with ticklemore & bittercress. Both were extremely tasty. The Butter beans dish was dressed in a wonderfully seasoned herby dressing and the vegetables and beans had a healthy crunch to them. The roasted beetroot had a subtle sweet essence and were ingeniously paired with the Wensleydale-like Ticklemore cheese and slightly sour bittercress.
Just as we were polishing off the beetroot and the butter beans, we were presented with another set of 4 starter portions. The soft duck egg salad with artichoke hearts was excellent. The monkfish liver with chickweed tasted like a fishy foie gras and was a hit with everyone. The thinly sliced pieces of fried ox tongue were bursting with flavour and very tender. The only dish I was not particularly enamoured by was the deep fried pig’s head. This wasn’t literally a pig’s head dunked into a deep fat fryer, but pieces of the head, like its cheek, cut into chunks, coated with breadcrumbs and then deep fried. The pig’s head pieces were a little too on the fatty side for my liking.
The only larger sized dish we ordered was the roasted grouse. The rich, gamey, dark pink meat of the grouse was delicious, and after failing to pick at the good meat with our knives and forks, we made to group decision to go primal, ripping off strips of meat with both hands.
Having demolished the grouse, our bellies were more than satisfied, however the desserts sounded so tempting that we ordered two between the four of us. The chocolate terrine was served with a dollop of clotted cream and a round brandy snap. The terrine was divine and the consistency was somewhere between a thick mousse and a ganache. The clotted cream was too much for me though, and I think it would have been better without it. The second dessert was the blueberry eton mess and it was also extremely rich, in fact, too indulgent for my liking. I would have preferred less cream and more blueberries and meringue.
For this extravagant amount of food and 2 glasses of white wine each, the bill came to an incredibly reasonable £26 per person. Each dish’s combination of ingredients, seasoning and textures was positively unique, and apart from two minor complaints about the fried pig’s head and the über creamy desserts, dinner was highly pleasurable. The attentive staff and relaxed ambiance of the restaurant made the experience all the more enjoyable, and it is safe to say that this is not the last Bread and Wine has seen of me.
St John Bread & Wine, 94-96 Commercial St, London E1 6LZ. 020 7251 0848