We almost didn’t make it here.
Our original plan was to dine at Fifteen, Jamie Oliver’s restaurant/culinary school for underpriviledged kids; however, our long-time friends in London made such a strong case for St. John’s that we decided to go for it. Plus, we already visited Oliver’s alma mater, the River Cafe, at lunch.
So at 6pm, one hour after the tube strike started, we’re on a cab from Grosvenor Square heading to the other end of town in Spitalfields. Our cab driver valiantly tries to squeeze through rush-hour traffic; forty five minutes later, he drops us off on the busy and bustling Commercial Street. The restaurant is across the street from the Spitalfields Market, a cavernous food court that began its life in the 1700’s as a place to hawk livestock, poultry and vegetables.
Inside, it’s simple and no frills, almost industrial. Baking equipment peeks through a high half wall that also lets diners see the chefs at work. A blackboard hangs prominently on the center wall and displays the specials. St John’s has been open since lunch time and so most of the items are crossed out. The menu itself is split into smaller dishes meant to be eaten tapas style and larger ones meant to be entrees. Those unfamiliar with British cuisine will certainly do a double-take at some of the unusual (and outrageous) sounding names.
Ox Heart, Watercress & Pickled Walnut
It may not seem all that appetizing, but, according to our waitress, this is one of the more popular items on the menu. When describing the dish, she starts by making a gesture with her hands like she’s holding a watermelon. Apparently, that’s how massive an ox heart is. It’s sliced thinly, marinated in a sweet and piquant vinaigrette before being grilled. Paired with the slightly bitter watercress, this dish is downright delicious. The ox heart texture is quite a surprise. It’s chewy rather than spongy, more similar to top round than innards.
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