The food world’s version of Godwin’s law is that any modern British restaurant review will eventually mention St. John. The Clerkenwell restaurant and its offshoots are poster boys of inventive Brit-cuisine: at once classic and innovative, knowing and understated. But not infallible, as the sale of the struggling St. John hotel last year demonstrated. It reopened in May 2013 as One Leicester Street (with Chef Tom Harris still at the pass), and a few weeks before we visited for a preview dinner.
The dining room is small and unremarkable, if softer in furnishings than its previous incarnation. It’s not a setting in which to conduct discussions of a delicate nature – positioned, as you are, close enough to count the nasal hairs of your neighbour. Service was oddly uncomfortable, our waiter being an unfortunate confluence of Messrs. Brent and Fawlty. During the much-needed explanation of how eating out works he actually said “the menu’s got a kind of chill-out vibe”. Shame.
Perhaps what he meant was it’s a small-plates, sharing-style menu (that old chestnut). We had a crab and fennel dish; some pigs’ cheek ham and peas; goats curd and wet garlic. Nice enough, just a bit dull – like an Internet date. But, oh my, the boredom was smitten by the Brown Butter and Honey tart. Light, nutty, sweet – I’ve had spoonfuls of honey that tasted less honey-y. I’d easily pay double (which is fortunate as we had 50% off).
One Leicester Street’s trying its best, but it doesn’t feel relevant or necessary in the current landscape. There are dozens of cheaper, more interesting, more innovative experiences within strolling distance. If St. John didn’t work here, with all their clout as back-up, it’s hard to see how anything other than a sea change will bring success to this address.