The virtues of simplicity

26 St John Street, London EC1M 4AY. Tel: 0171-251 0848. Open for lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday, lunch only Sunday. Average price per person £25. All major credit cards accepted. price etc ST JOHN

WHETHER it is something to do with its being so near Smithfield - the restaurant is in St John Street about 100 yards north of the meat market - or whether, as seems more probable, it is a carefully thought- out policy, there is a rather bare and basic feel about the food at the St John.

The decor certainly sets the same theme - it is architectural and rather striking, a high white room laid out on the lines of a school dining room, wooden chairs and tables with white paper cloths arranged in rows, with bare, white-painted girders supporting the roof, rows of black lamps hanging on black rods, a wooden floor painted pale grey, and a stainless steel serving counter to match the stainless steel bar in the lower room where you come in.

There are also windows looking out on more white-painted outer rooms - one little windowed cabin off the main restaurant serves as a kind of private dining room - and the waiters and waitresses wear long white aprons and baggy white jackets.

The lady who takes the coats deserves some sort of award for being so garrulous and affable and uninhibited. She told us that the restaurant used to be a shed where they hung hams, and that you can, in some ghostly way, get a whiff of curing ham.

The clientele, on the evening I ate there at least, is smartish but not excessively fashionable: a table of old-fashioned country gents and their ladies, ostentatiously smoking cigarettes between courses, a few groups of young businessmen in dark suits with briefcases, a few courting couples, a table of butch gays in beards and lumberjack checks, two aunts and their young niece, and your plump critic with his willowy spouse, scribbling notes on the paper tablecloth.

The menu, surmounted by what appears to be a flying pig with a discreet a, b, c, d and e drawn in to indicate the various cuts of pork, also makes a virtue of simplicity. It is headed "Supper", and does its best to evoke a modern pie and mash establishment. There are, for example, apart from what we eventually chose, whelks and pickled onions at £3.50. When your mouth has unshrivelled from reading that, there are deep-fried sprats and tartare sauce, lambs' brain terrine, Jerusalem artichoke, spinach and red onion, and rock or native oysters which are individually priced at 95p or £1.10 apiece.

A very charming and intelligent waitress had joined us by this time. My wife got in first and ordered roast marrow bone and parsley salad, and I was left with the only other alternative I could face, which was smoked eel and bacon soup.

The wine list is very selective and professional, ranging from £8 to £53.50 a bottle. We asked for some 1992 Corbires at £11.75, which was more than adequate.

Whatever other shortcomings the restaurant may have, the marrow bone alone is worth the trip. Three big chunks of bone of the kind the King's dwarf stuck Gulliver in during dinner in the Land of the Giants, roasted in the oven and brimful of the most delicious marrow to be spooned out and eaten on brown toast. The parsley salad, too, was memorably good. My soup was fine as far as its ingredients were concerned, but really too watery and weak.

For the main course my wife decided to have roast pigeon and lentils. By this time I was getting quite carried away by nostalgia for the good old days of Victorian cockney knockabout, and ordered tripe, onions and mash.We could have had Dover sole - which was, at £15.50, by far the most expensive thing on the menu - baked courgettes, tomato and crispy bread, cold roast sirloin, green beans and aioli or pork and liver sausage and fennel. Under that were what looked at first sight like vegetables - broccoli, new potatoes or salad, then Welsh rarebit and cheese.

The pigeon was very small, okay but no more, and served with warm lentils, and for some reason with near-cold leeks which seemed to me on the stringy side. My tripe would have made a costermonger laugh a good deal, being laid out in very small, thin, delicate strips with an accompanying slice of braised onion on a mound of mashed potato.

Not a lot was going on by way of cabaret: my wife had purposely taken the chair from which I could have spent the evening admiring the long- legged beauty at the next table, and I had to content myself with sitting with my back to her, comparing her bright and passionate conversation with my wife's admittedly more amusing shafts of destructive wit. At the old gents' table they all got up and changed places and smoked a few more cigarettes, and at one point a very cocky-looking cook resembling something out of Happy Families bounced through the room in blue check trousers and a goatee beard. Otherwise it was pretty quiet.

Puddings at the St John form a very limited list: crme caramel, plum and almond tart, rhubarb and cream, vanilla and coffee ice cream, or apple crumble. My wife asked for the Welsh rarebit. It was made, the waitress told us, with Guinness. Having had a very good Welsh rarebit two days before at Fortnum's Soda Fountain, I found the St John version a bit of a let-down: dark and heavy and syrupy on limp toast.

The St John partially redeemed itself with the apple crumble, which really was excellent: firm chunks of sweet cooking apple tasting of soft brown sugar, and what little crumble there was very light and unsoggy.

We had two pots of camomile tea, which was unexceptionable, and the bill for two came to £50.52 without the tip. Under the Service Not Included stamp on the print-out it says "Nose to Tail Eating". I'm not sure it's the happiest of mottoes.

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

booksReview: Lena Dunham, Not That Kind of Girl
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments