Above: Smoked fish mash with duck egg on toast. Golden.
I might as well tell you. Babs and I spent our house downpayment gallavanting around the world for 15 months. And now we're trying to finance our foodie startup without external investment. And pay the rent without going back to full time jobs (so we can spend time on said start up).
The result? We're lucky, and doing ok. I love where we live. I'm quickly cementing my status as a fashion disaster, but it won't kill me. Most interestingly, we're probably eating better now than we ever did on full time paychecks. Working at home means I get to cook a lot more from scratch, and a combination of a tighter budget and unrelenting foodie standards means that the quality on anything we eat now has to at least match, if not outpace the pound we spend on it.
A recent week-long visit from Dan & Mei -- 2 very dear and foodie friends from Singapore -- was a great way to crystallise my current value-for-money London Eats list.
On this particular Sunday the 4 of us ate like kings (or maybe just very posh peasants) for ~£20 per person, which got us great produce, a regularly season-refreshed menu, and clean and simple though not at all simplistic flavours. Which upholds a long-loved belief that you don't gotta be fancy to be classy.
Globe artichoke with dip. The St John empire is known for what they call honest food. Maybe sometimes more honest than we can easily handle! I realised I'd never eaten an artichoke whole before. It took us a while to figure out what to do with this baby here. We got there in the end. (I won't ruin it for you, and maybe we actually muppeted it up, who knows...)
Peas and ticklemore, a kind of goat's cheese. A self-confessed borrow from former head chef James Lowe. Tis the season for fresh peas, and Mei realised she'd only ever had them frozen. She was hooked. We ate peas fresh for the rest of the week whenever we could. She even brought 2kg home to Singapore with her!
Devilled rabbit kidneys on toast. Utterly superb. Like fat savoury jellybeans for grownups.
Sweetbreads. I really like it that these were cooked through and firm. I confess to being a bit squeamish about the squishier medium rare treatment more loved by other more hardcore offal veterans.
Pig's head stew. Sooooooo comforting. Hopefully it's a mainstay on the menu now that it's forecast to rain every day for the next 2 months!
Sprats with horseradish. Be sure to crunch down on them, head, tail, et al!
Also from the fish list but from a previous meal Babs and I had there: Bright red crayfish, and sardines with salsa verde. A lovely memory of sunnier days in London.
Ah yes. And now to the highlight of this particular Sunday afternoon. The smoked fish mash with duck egg on toast. That yolk is Nigella-style borderline obscene!
I fully expected it to explode and leak everwhere upon first touch. But tadah! The clever clogs in the kitchen slow cooked the egg, so instead you get a velvety eggy custard to go on top of the velvety smoked fish mash. This is exactly my point. You don't always need to spend a fortune to enjoy luxury.
And now to desserts. Once again, a flashback to a meal we had during the slightly earlier days of plotting the startup: Lemon sorbet with a shot of vodka (sometimes they also do apple sorbet with vodka. Be still my beating heart!); and chocolate pudding with prunes.
The notorious Eccles cake (kinda like a very dense raisin scone) with Lancashire cheese. Lovely for those who prefer a more savoury dessert. My mate Goz who runs the Plusixfive Singapore Supperclub claims this combination made him react rather rudely when he first tried it. (Rude is good, the fashionable kids tell me!)
And to make sure we finish on a high (and it's a tough one with this post). Little St John incarnations of heaven on earth: Madeleines fresh from the oven. Feathery light, gently sweet, eggy, toasty.... they really should call these Maddenings.
Many thanks to chefs Lee Tiernan and Lillie O'Brien, their kitchen teams, and the always charming Daniel at front of house for supplying so much bliss at such a bargain. We'll be back. Often.
St John Bread and Wine
94-96 Commercial Street
London E1 6LZ
+44 20 3301 8069