Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver’s restaurant – now the heart of a mini-empire with branch, bakery and wine dealership – has been praised to the skies for reacquainting the British with the full possibilities of native produce, and especially anything gutsy and offal-ish.
Perhaps as influential, however, has been its almost defiantly casual style: a Michelin-starred restaurant for people who run from the very idea. The mezzanine dining room in the former Smithfield smokehouse has bare white walls, battered floorboards and tables lined up canteen-style; the downstairs bar, with superb snacks, is equally basic. The staff are able to chat without allowing anything to go off-track.
St John’s cooking is famously full-on, but also sophisticated, concocting flavours that are delicate as well as rich, such as cuttlefish and onions was extraordinary, arriving in a supremely deep-flavoured ink-based sauce with a hint of mint, or perfectly cooked tongue served with fantastic horseradish. This is powerful cooking, so if you go for a full dinner, including the great neo-traditional puds, leave time for digestion.
Wines – all French, many under St John’s own label, are on the pricey side, but you can also order good beers from the attached bar, which many diners prefer for its more casual vibe and reasonable prices.