The Fatted Gamer
The St John restaurant in Smithfield is one of the great eateries, the kind of place where food becomes a story, rather than simply fuel.
“We’re going to a place where tonight’s special is deep fried squirrel,” said my friend as we drank Belgian lager in a central-London pub, pickling ourselves in preparation for a feast.
Even my palate didn’t extend to rodents, so the ox heart and beetroot was for starter, followed by a hare pie. Robust food, well-cooked offal. Meat, stock and cabbage. A ginger sponge to finish, perfectly steamed. It’s been a while since I’ve had a meal that made me want to stand up and cheer, and so to eat in the undecorated, unpretentious dining hall at St John suddenly made me aware of how awesomely lazy I’ve been in the last couple of years. My cooking has deteriorated from naive but adventurous to formulaic and staid. I’ve not even been writing about food. It’s been slipping away from me.
To counter that trend I’ve been leant a copy of Anthony Bourdain’s gonzoid report from the oily abyss of international catering, Kitchen Confidential. Food is visceral, and Bourdain’s writing emphasizes, with wretched energy, just what an important part of being alive the substance and process of cooking really is.
He says of eating at St John: “It’s where people who truly love food, who know what’s good about wiping grease off their chins, can congregate without fear, safe from the dark clouds of processed foods gathering over Europe… A meal at St John is not just one of the great eating experiences on the planet – it’s a call to the barricades.”