Wednesday, 16 January 2013

St John Hotel, Fergus Henderson, Rob Owen Brown, Gordo & Peng

Way back in September, my wife was in Bahrain visiting her sister. Not wanting to be sat home alone each night, I took the opportunity to visit a few restaurants - drives to Sat Bain in Nottingham (see here) and Simon Rogan's L'Enclume in Cumbria (here) helped to pass the time.

It also coincided with the Manchester Food and Drink Festival. On the Friday night, I made my way into town for the “Festival Feast’ by Fergus Henderson and Rob Owen Brown.

Chefs Fergus & Rob

If you didn’t already know, Rob runs The Mark Addy (here), whilst his long time friend, Fergus, probably needs less of an introduction as 'Mr. St John'. Two of his* restaurants in London hold Michelin stars (and the original St. John has ranked in the top 10 of the S.Pellegrino Top 50 World's Best Restaurants list.)

Carrageen Pudding / Leagram's Goat Curd

I enjoyed the food that night but it became one of many meals and experiences that I just didn't get around to blogging about for one reason or another. We ate: Pressed Brawn with Crispy Pigs Ear Salad; Red Legged Partridge with ‘Orbs of Joy’ and Bread Sauce; Carrageen Pudding and Leagram’s Goat Curd.

Pressed Brawn / Red Legged Partridge with 'orbs of joy'

For me, Pressed Brawn with Crispy Pigs Ear Salad was without doubt the star dish of the night - for a more detailed view of the evening check out the Lickerish Split blog (here).

Gordo, Fergus & Brawn
Alongside Fergus, the evening was co-hosted by Manchester's finest foodie flâneur, Gordo who, despite the dodgy PA, kept diners entertained with his own inimitable style and anecdotes. Being a one-time contributor to his online publication, Manchester Confidential, Gordo introduced me to the charming and captivating Mr. Henderson.

We shared a few stories, laughs and a love of food – and I even came away with a signed copy of his 'Complete Nose To Tail' cookbook. As well as the signatures of chefs Fergus and Rob, Gordo also added his autograph that has probably blown my chances of ever selling it on ebay ;-)

As well as the book, I left the meal with a determination to visit one of the Michelin starred St Johns on my next visit to London (something I had been meaning to do for a while).
To cut a long story short, I booked a meal at the St John Hotel, near Leicester Square. In my excitement of anticipation, I tweeted this fact. A response came through asking if the hotel and restaurant were still in administration?

I knew nothing of this - so I Googled. Indeed, shortly receiving its star the St John Hotel had been placed in receivership. It seems the kitchen team must have stayed and the Michelin star remained but the administrators and not Fergus now undertook the day-to-day running of the place.

I ummed and ahhed and eventually decided to cancel my booking and try to get to the original St John at a later date.

Whilst in London, another development occurred. News broke that Singaporean hotelier and restaurateur Loh Lik Peng had bought the St John Hotel.

Peng is involved in a number of excellent restaurants that I have eaten in - including Jason Atherton's Esquina (here), Pollen and Keong Saik Snacks (here); Cocotte (here) and, the celebrated, Restaurant Andre (here). In London Peng's company also owns the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green which houses Nuno Mendes' Viajante.

Having met Peng on my last visit to Singapore, what I liked most was the fact that he was waiting patiently in the queue to eat at his 'own restaurant' and not using his ownership status to bypass the 'no reservation' policy.

I also admire his that he always prefers to develop 'heritage properties' as opposed to shiny new buildings and malls as is the case with the majority of big named or celebrity operators in Singapore.

The morning after the news broke, I decided to take myself along to the St John Hotel for breakfast.

To drink I had Freshly squeezed grapefruit juice and a Cappuccino – both were good quality and served at decent temperatures.  

To eat, I had Buttermilk Pancakes and Buck Rarebit – for those that don’t know, buck rarebit is essentially Welsh rarebit, with an egg. In this case a slightly over poached, poached egg.

The rarebit itself was a joy! Fergus’ recipe includes English mustard, cayenne pepper, Guinness and, of course, a strong mature cheese with a good glug of Worcestershire sauce - Perfection!

It’s going to be interesting to see what Peng does with the restaurant and hotel and what happens with its Michelin star status.

In the meantime, St. John remains on my list of restaurants to visit! 

St. John Hotel on Urbanspoon

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