Being a Civil Carnivore: St. John Bread & Wine

For my 21st birthday, my loves and I went to St. John Bread & Wine in Spitalfields, one of the offshoot branches of St. John, which is known for its “nose to tail” dishes (eating every part of the animal). As for the roasted suckling pig pictured above, the dish can only be ordered with parties of 10 to 15 or more. Luckily, there were other birthday celebrations going on as well, so I got the opportunity to get up in the pig’s grill and snap a picture. PETA would assassinate me if they knew. Sadly, I did not taste the pig (the aroma in the room was swooning), but I had some other pretty awesome dishes!

First observation of the night: I literally didn’t understand half the menu. Piccalilli, ramson, kohlrabi, ticklemore, sea purslane… and most interesting, faggot?

Yes, it’s always wonderful to learn about new foods, but not knowing the ingredients of almost half the dishes on the menu? I was overwhelmed. When the waiter came over to the table, I interrogated him like a suspect, dragging every detail out of him. And if you were curious, “faggot” means a bundle, which was a meatball of offal.

For the table, we had some scrumptious bread and a pleasant Plume rose, which was quite appropriate since this branch specialized in “Bread and Wine.”

The dining style mimics a tapas style in which there are little plates of food rather than a straightforward three course meal. The dishes are meant to be shared amongst the table, but there are usually some main style dishes as well. Since everybody had different comfort levels for food, we decided to order our own dishes.

When I understood the menu, two of the small dishes really caught my eye. I made my friend order the Ox Heart, Celeriac, & Mustardand I ordered the Middle White Faggot & Swede so we would be able to try both.Like I mentioned before, the faggot is a meatball of offal, and the swede is a turnip puree. I loved the faggot dish! The sweeter turnip puree balanced the saltiness of the meatball, and one without the other made it either too salty or unsavory.

For a main, I had the Ox Tongue, Watercress & Pickled Walnut.Maybe it’s because I am Chinese, so I have been exposed to lots of exotic ingredients. There are lots of Chinese dishes that include ox and pig tongue, pig ear, intestines, and the like, therefore ordering ox tongue seemed nothing out of the norm. A few of my friends, however, couldn’t even bear the thought that I was enjoying it. Yet, my girlfriends who were open to trying new things, also really enjoyed it! The tongue paired really really well with the watercress, which was topped with a nice balsamic vinaigrette.

After lots of great conversation, laughs, and good food, we concluded the meal with some freshly baked madeleines.They were warm, spongy, and a perfect delight - they really made my night! We promised ourselves we would go back to Spitalfields, enjoy the market, and spend the afternoon with some more madeleines.

All in all, St. John Bread and Wine is a highly recommend. Although I was a bit disappointed at first when I couldn’t reserve a table at St. John, I am really glad we ended up at the Bread and Wine branch. It’s much less formal, cute and welcoming, with a jovial pub-like feel. All the other parties happened to be birthday dinners, too, so we all sang “Happy Birthday” multiple times. A wonderful birthday dinner indeed.

P.S. Thanks Jess for letting me use your camera!