There’s no denying St John’s Tavern is a slick operation. The charmingly refurbished saloon bar is light and cheerful, while the huge adjacent dining hall works well as both informal gastroboozer and special-occasion restaurant. Staff strut the wide aisles of tables and booths with an air of authority backed by an open kitchen that serves well-crafted food of estimable provenance.
Dishes tend to be modern British with Mediterranean influences – a big plate of Dorset snails with spinach tagliatelle, for instance, or roast leg of lamb with runner beans, Jersey Royals and salsa verde. They’re not afraid to offer pub staples in their purest form, but if creativity is more to your liking (gooseberry tapenade, anyone?) there’s sure to be something tempting on offer. Offal makes frequent appearances: jellied pig’s head, say, with pickled green apple and beetroot purée, or lamb’s kidneys with lentil, purslane and sweetcorn salad.
The list of puddings and cheeses is dreamy, so do save room. Real ales are respected (there are handpumps in both restaurant and bar) and the genial European wine list starts at £16 a bottle. If you can’t get (or don’t want) a table in the dining room, the appealing choice of bar nibbles includes cockles and whelks, montgomery’s cheddar and patatas bravas.