Eating Nose to Tail in London & A Podcast

Since Amy and I have been together I think we’ve only spent two Thanksgivings in America – not because we don’t enjoy turkey, but because it is often the cheapest time of the year to leave the country as many expat Americans are returning home. And true to form, this year, despite a sizable delay at JFK, we had only 47 other passengers for company on our British Airways 747 flight to London, so enjoyed the “luxury” of a row of economy seats each.

The purpose of this trip was, principally, to visit my new nephew, William, who, we discovered, is a charming young chap with pink cheeks and a propensity for chewing his fingers, drinking milk, and synchronizing his burps and farts – some skills you just can’t teach. However, we also planned to visit old friends we hadn’t seen since our wedding 18 months ago, and, if we could fit it in, actually see some of London.

I’m sure many of you have heard and/or seen about the culinary renaissance that has been happening in the UK over the past ten years or so, that the country is rightfully proud of. Marco Pierre White, Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Rick Stein, and Heston Blumenthal, among others, have all made huge names for themselves domestically and internationally for their reinterpretations of classic British dishes and focus on the excellent produce of the British Isles. Much of this gastronomic progress has been realized in the restaurants of London, turning it from culinary wasteland to hot spot almost over night.

Now, my experience of dining in London as a resident were generally not at these temples of fine food, but instead at more down-at-heel places like the many gastro-pubs and curry houses. So, the first opportunity we got, Amy and I raced off to a local boozer in Putney (the Coat & Badge) for a quick pub lunch of pork pie, chips and mushy peas, washed down with a couple of pints of Fuller’s London Pride (a bitter made just over the Thames in Chiswick), and that evening, followed it up with a typically Anglo-Indian take-out curry from the totally average but completely wonderful Putney Tandoori.

Chucking back a chicken tikka jalfrezi and a lamb dhansak was like putting on an old sweater – familiar, comforting, and with a smell that evoked many happy memories. Rose-tinted memories for certain, because I’ve committed some fairly miserable and embarrassing mistakes of judgment at Indian restaurants over the years, including the time I ordered a fahl (an insanely-spiced dish), took one bite and then rubbed my eyes with a chile-soaked finger, and spent the rest of the night feverishly rinsing out my sockets fearing I’d blinded myself.

The Gardening Club - Where our love began (with 14 pints of lager)The day after our curries, we headed into London proper – to the centre/center – to revisit the nasty-ass basement bar where Amy and I stumbled across one another nearly six years ago, do some shopping down Neal Street, and then head up to Farringdon for lunch. Amazingly, the Gardening Club (the basement bar) looked like it had been given a face-lift, and was now, curiously, serving lunch, but neither of us could really face going inside for fear that it might change our cherished memories of the place. So, pushing on, we enjoyed the recent fall in value of the pound vs. the dollar and actually did some non-food shopping for a change.

One of the other “new” breed of British chef/restaurateurs, we knew about from having read about him, seen him on TV and bought his book, but who has garnered far less international celebrity is Fergus Henderson of St. John Restaurant near Smithfield Market. He is most famous for his widely-copied dish of roasted veal marrow-bones and parsley salad which we had eaten and loved at both Gabrielle Hamilton’s fabulous Prune, in NYC, and more recently at L’Express in Montreal. Now we wanted to try the original.

Below a sign featuring a hand-drawn pig, we entered the restaurant down a short hallway (the building which houses the restaurant is a Georgian-era carriage house, and one enters via the former carriage entrance the courtyard of which is now covered and serves as the restaurant’s bar, bakery and cafe area), and ascended a short flight of stairs to to the dining room full of anticipation. Factory-style lamps illuminated a white-walled space completely circled by head-high coat-hooks, and a thickly-painted floor was decorated only by ordinary white-clothed tables and dark, well-worn chairs.

Check out the slideshow above to see what we had for lunch, and then listen to the podcast below to learn more about St. John Restaurant, and our excitingly awkward meeting with chef/owner Fergus Henderson.

39 thoughts on “Eating Nose to Tail in London & A Podcast

  1. Here in Toronto, we have a resto called Cowbell and the same food principle is practiced…working from less attractive cuts to prime.

    The chef also does his own butchering and surely he would use marrow in a menu…or maybe even some pizzle? lol

    The podcast is a nice touch, especially after having met you both.

  2. hey peter! i didn’t think about that but, shit, you’ve met us now… there’s no anonymity left! the mystery is over… now you’ll leave us b/c you’re bored. you’ll leave us for some hot, sexy other blogger. damn you! oh, and if we come to toronto, i want to go to Cowbell!!

    Mark: so curious why you didn’t like the marrow bones at l’express? mine were fabulous and a bit greasy, but the ones at st. john were the best i’ve had.

  3. This brings back so many memories. My husband and I lived in London from July 2003-July 2004. We got to eat out (on the company dime) at St. John, Moro, Rasa, Cinnamon Club, and countless other amazing restaurants. We also spent his birthday in Bray and ate at the Fat Duck just after it was awarded it’s third Michelin star. We both had 17 course tasting menus (mine totally vegetarian) and it was THE MOST amazing meal I have ever had in my life. Looks like it’s time for a London visit!

  4. Now I am am really hooked on you guys, all your Roman passions and now some serious praise for my proper home London. Yep, St John rocks the culinary world like the best old tight trousered rocker (did you hear it came 34th in some pole or other, 34th, 34th a travesty.)
    Like the photos and I am going to watch the poddy thing right now.

  5. Sounds like a grand visit! I had never heard about Fergus Henderson, but was thoroughly excited that he would write a book “Nose to tail eating” Too few people make the most of the whole hog, and for that I’ve become a great admirer.

  6. how can I not comment on this blog when it brings back loads of memories for me and my journeys in London as a drunken college kid as well? I cant believe you guys went back to “Rock Garden” as we all called it for one reason or another…i cant wait to hear stories! That marrow looks interesting none the less and I am now going to listen to your podcast!

  7. Dana – lucky you to have eaten at all those places, and on someone else’s budget too. That’s when you can really enjoy it! I always have a slight tinge of buyers remorse visiting expensive restaurants, even when the food is awesome!

    Rachel – you’re so right: there is a lot to love about us… (!) I hadn’t heard/seen that poll, and since I don’t know what came above it, I can’t dispute the findings, but I’m guessing people who really love food would vote for Fergus but those who love “dining out” at “fancy” places might think it too hardcore and spartan for their tastes.

    Julia – i think this place would be right up your street. The book is an interesting read in of itself, but a visit gives you the context. And, as far as I know, Henderson was not pioneering nose to tail because he was interested in sustainability and zero waste, which are fantastic by-products, I think he began doing it because he felt the public was being deprived of so many great dishes that he had to keep them (the dishes, not the public) alive.

  8. ok, so i had to comment again only bc that was THE FUNNIEST podcast EVER!! was laughing so hard at the story about Bobby Flay & the “slapped his ass and his face then walked away” comment…haaaaa.

  9. One of these days I will make it back to the UK; I still have family there and my wife has never been. It’s very exciting now that they’ve learned how to cook. Did you have any mushy peas?

  10. Peter – you’re damn right we had mushy peas, though in a slightly uncommon trio with a pork pie and chips. And, if I may be pedantic and uncharacteristically patriotic, the problem with British food has (at least during the 20th century) typically been rationing and the residual thrifty mentality combined with an utter lack of imagination. Historically, the British Isles have produced and received some brilliant foods that while not haute cuisine, provide much of the basis for the classic American culinary lexicon like apple pie, the Thanksgiving dinner (with the addition of new world ingredients), a wide variety of soups, and yes, I’ll say it, the ultimate American convenience food, the sandwich. So what I’m saying is that the Brits have recently remembered how to cook the way they used to rather than just learned. By the way, where’s your family located?

  11. Fascinating post. I hadn’t realize that the pound to dollar ratio was good… I may have to look into that (we have tickets to use up… fast!)

    It sounds like you hit several homey or fabulous places.

  12. Forgive my ignorance guys… but didn’t hear about the cooks… ups!
    However, love to hear about your sensorial experiences in London. I know who I have to ask for info whenever I travel there ;D

  13. Yep – saw Henderson on Bittman’s PBS travel/cooking show and damn if they didn’t make that bone marrow dish! I was fascinated by Henderson’s approach to the piggy and the historical significance of those almost-forgotten dishes.

    Great photos. WTF? – Is that HAIR I see sticking out of that fatty piece of something? You are one bad-ass dude to eat piggy bristles!

    Can’t wait to listen to the podcast…

  14. yes, jensenly… that is hair. but i swear, you couldn’t taste it. ha ha ha ha. i had to take a picture of it b/c it was staring at me from the plate and it just reminded me that we really were at a “nose to tail” restaurant! thanks for noticing it! i was waiting till SOMEONE mentioned something!

    Joie de vivre! You’re so cute! I honestly didn’t realize we did that, but thanks for noticing it – and really, thank you for listening to the podcast! it really means alot to us!

  15. Well articulated view of the London dining scene that is so misunderstood in the US. It started heating up in 1997/98 and until Spain took over it really was (and in many ways still is) ground zero for thoughtful and provocative food.

    Enjoyed your pod cast a lot, I have not been to St. Johns but your comments about using the entire animal remind me of Feijoida in Brazil – good commentary on good eating…


  16. you guys sure do live a nice traveling life. i love love it! And I agree with Chefectomy, Spain rules when it comes to great eating, everywhere! like everywhere, but i’m sure you and Amy know that! 🙂

  17. The West Midlands, outside of Birmingham. I also spent a winter in East Anglia in 1991. Have a chip butty for me in my absence. And a hand-pulled Abbot ale.

    My Dad grew up during the war, and he’s living proof of the rationing/privation school of British cooking. It’s nice that the combination of demographics and global culinary savvy are changing the landscape. Someday I will make it back there.

  18. you are such a savvy traveller. That’s a great tip.

    i am drooling over this slideshow — not just of the delicious food, namely the bone marrow — but also of the charming places. Nothing would make me happier than running a little bakery like that one pictured.

  19. I am SO JEALOUS you ate at St. John!! It is very high up on my list if places I need to get around to eating at. I absolutely adore the philosophy, I eat in the same way. I know you said you didn’t eat lots of offal (although I love a bit myself) but I think it is as much about not wasting anythign in general isn’t it? Squuezing every bit of flavour out of every ingredient – yum! I love that picture with the hairs on too, hee hee. I ate iberico pig cheeks at Tierra Brindisa yesterday and they were soooo delicious. I am also a massive fan of bone marrow, after having eaten it at Trinity in Clapham. Well I have moved St. John up a notch in my list now, I must eat there asap. Thanks for the podcast too.

  20. I am listening to your postcast right now. I am thoroughly enjoying it. The photos of the restaurant are terrific. I love the space and the light there. Had some bone marrow recently at Guy Savoy in Vegas and my oh my you are right about the succulence and decadence of this food, I plan to make it myself soon and try it with parsley salad.
    Never heard of eating widgeon, do remember it from zoology classes in college…

  21. Oooh, I will keep your travel tip in mind when planning my Thanksgiving next year.

    I love the concept, but something about bristles on meat turns me off a bit.

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