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St John Hotel (CLOSED)

Restaurants, British Chinatown

Time Out says

Friendly warning! We're working hard to be accurate. But these are unusual times, so please check that venues remain open.

Please note, St John Hotel has now closed. Time Out Food editors, February 2019.

In December 2012 St John Hotel went into administration - but is still open for business while a new buyer is sought. The review below predates the administration.

St John’s menus – at the original in Clerkenwell, at the smaller branch in Spitalfields and now here, in a spartan hotel restaurant in the West End – are masterpieces of brevity, shocking in their bluntness. A starter of ‘pigs head, rabbit and radishes’ might be followed by ‘bacon and snails’. Offal features heavily, as do ingredients pulled from ditches, or dishes that sound pilfered from the maid’s pantry.

It would be easy to dismiss St John’s menu as the shock tactic of chef brought up on Molesworth or St Trinian’s. But, as any fule kno, many people love St John’s food – perhaps in the way they loved nanny’s slipper, but they love it.

This new dining room is small, plain, as terse as the menu, as cosy as an abbatoir. It’s part of a 16-room hotel in an old building, now remodelled by St John’s Trevor Gulliver and Fergus Henderson to resemble inside a four-storey army barracks. But this doesn’t matter, because you come here to eat, not to see the ugly stairs.

One our first visit, at lunch, we were initially startled by the high lunch prices. A simple bowl of ‘bacon and beans’ cost a staggering £28, for two to share. But this dish is so primordial in its appeal it would satisfy Gog and Magog. The little white haricot beans are stewed in a tomato-rich sauce with treacle and mustard; the ‘bacon’ was fat slices of pork cheek, and all the better for it.

The desserts are as resolutely British as the Union Jack, and one of the great strengths of St John. Ginger loaf is served just-baked, and smelling of Christmas, with a drizzle of apple-caramel sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Chocolate terrine is a dense, cocoa-rich slab served with ice cream laced with Armagnac.

It was on a second, ‘supper’, visit that St John unravelled. Our booking was lost – possibly a result of a single booking line serving three locations with the same name. Service, slow on the lunch visit, lurched into bottom gear; our starters took more than an hour to arrive. The pricing of the wine list is very steep, starting at £26 for some very ordinary own-label French plonk (which retails in shops at £7.30), then escalates rapidly through mark-ups of three- to four-fold. Our main courses (roast pigeon, baked celeriac) were fine but pricy, and certainly not worth a two-hour wait. The high prices are hard to justify when ingredient costs are cheap: for example, tripe and onions at £16.50.

There’s also a bar upstairs for hotel residents and diners which has the look of a British Caledonian airport lounge circa 1971. Our two negroni aperitifs – a ‘house speciality’ – appeared on the bill at £10.40 each, plus 12.5 per cent service.

Late opening (last orders 1.45am) is one of the main attractions.

 

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Details

Address: 1 Leicester Street
London
WC2H 7BL
Cross street: off Leicester Square
Transport: Tube: Leicester Square or Piccadilly Circus tube
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