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Tuesday, April 20, 2004

St.John Bread & Wine and cooking Thai in Camden

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Yesterday was my second day in London, I spent the morning at the office, well, after all, this was supposed to be a work trip.

The work-free afternoon was spent at my favorite restaurant in London, St.John (B&W) in Spitalfield, with my favorite person in London, Max. How much better can a day get? Max and I hadn't seen each other for a couple of months, so we had lots to catch up on. I also hadn't been back to St.John (neither the restaurant nor the B&W) in a couple of months, so there was much eating to catch up on as well.

St.John, as you probably know already, is the brain child of chef Fergus Henderson. His philosophy is nose-to-tail eating, showing respect for life by not letting resources go to waste. Most people who have never been to St.John think of it as a gimmicky place that serves chitterlings and pig's feet just for the thrill of it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Chef Henderson's inspiration was never to shock people, but to show respect for the sanctity of life, and the purity of ingredient and taste.

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His cooking, like the cooking of the chefs he inspires, is light handed. He uses only the best ingredients that have been raised or grown in a sustainable manner, and let them speak for themselves. This philosophy is clearly spelled out in every one of his menus (which changes daily).

The style of both St.John locations is bare, but somehow manages to be quite warm and welcoming. The B&W location, especially, is a great place to have a long and leisurely lunch date. The menu consists of intriguing choices for small plates, perfect for pecking, accompanied by a long list of wine, by the glass, half bottle, or full bottle. The bread selection, true to the name, was fantastic. Even Max, who intended to be an Atkinite for a week, finally gave in.

Max and I shared a delightful lunch of Brown Crabmeat, Roasted Shallots and Goats Curd, Chicory, Sorrel and Boiled Egg, and Thin Flank and Aioli. The thin flank came with a tiny dollop of aioli, quite uncharacteristic of St.John. A bite of the flank with a smudge of aioli revealed its real potency. A little of that garlic aioli went a long way, I tell you.

My favorite dishe was the brown crabmeat, served smeared on two slices of crusty pain campagne toast. In fact, they was so tempting that I forgot to take a photo before we polished off both slices. Sorry. I also loved the Chicory, Sorrel and Boiled Egg. The dressing was delightfully herb-y and sharp, perfectly complimenting the bitter chicory and sorrel. The shallots and goat's curd was an odd combination which worked unexpectedly well.

For dessert we had Marmalade Ice Cream and Orange Cake and Crème Fraiche. They were both divine. The marmalade ice cream was superb. It was more bitter than sweet, just like a good marmalade. The orange cake was simply perfect. Nothing more to say, just perfect.

After the lunch with Max, I cabbed over to meet Hadas and her two delightful children, Itamar and Gali at Soho Square. I had promised Itamar, a 7 yr-old epicure in the making, that I would cook Thai food with him.

The three of us walked through the light London rain to Chinatown, to shop for ingredients for our dinner. Shopping with Itamar was so much fun. He was so genuinely enthusiastic and curious about everything. He was simply enchanted by all the sights and sounds and smells in Chinatown. We bought so much groceries it could have fed an army.

From Chinatown, we had a detour to my flat in Bayswater so I could change to something more comfortable and appropriate for cooking. In we went again into a cab and went to Yishay and Hadas's house in Camden.

We made chicken satay and peanut sauce, Tom Kha Gai (chicken in coconut milk soup), a noodle stir-fry with baby corns and baby asparagus (per Itamar's request), and a dessert soup of taro and coconut milk. We had so much fun cooking. Itamar was so interested in everything. He help me pound the satay marinade, peeled the taro (Yishay and Hadas let him use a small knife), and many other things. I tell you, this handsome boy is going to be famous one day. M.Ducasse, watch out!

It was 9 by the time we sat down at table to eat. The lovely Gali was long gone to bed, and dear Itamar was fighting with all his might to stay awake and taste the fruits of his own labor.

I finally made it back to my place at 11. I would have loved to stay longer and have a proper conversation with Yishay and Hadas, but I had an early meeting the next day. I got home, and went immediately to bed, happy and full. A lovely day it was, indeed.

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