“ 69-73 St John Street, EC1. Tel.020 7253 9000 „
A friend's recent birthday and wedding anniversary led to her booking a restaurant for an evening of festivities for around thirty people. As a person of high standards, I knew it would be fairly upmarket; and as I don't get to go to 'nice' restaurants very often these days - can't afford them - I was looking forward to the meal. And, for once, I wasn't disappointed.
69-73 St John Street
St John Street is in The City, so we got the tube to Farringdon and then walked for about ten minutes to reach the restaurant. Returning home, we got taxis, which were readily available at the end of the road, opposite Smithfield Market.
Walking into the restaurant, we were very politely greeted and on explaining that we were part of the party, were directed to the upstairs part of the restaurant. Walking through the ground floor at around 7.30 on a Saturday evening, we could see that there were a number of tables already full - always a good sign. The decor was plain - cream and white with brown leather chairs - but not at all unpleasant, but it doesn't exactly stand out either.
Upstairs on the first floor is a private area for parties - we were the only group up there, which, judging by the amount of noise we made, was probably just as well. We were all greeted with the offer of champagne, Bucks Fizz or orange juice, as well as a collection of canapes - stuffed olives, nuts and the like, all of which were very tasty. We all stood around and mingled for the first hour and a half and didn't feel in the slightest bit pressured to sit down and start eating. Food and champagne flowed freely - no stingy measures here. Eventually, we all took our places at the long table and the staff began to bring the food out.
We had all decided on our food in advance, having been given the choice of:
Starters: Red Mullet Turrine, Pimento and Tarragon Frittata, Chicken Liver Parfait
Main course: Risotto of Herbs and Parmesan, Beef Steak and Chips, Roast Salmon and Confit Tomatoes
Desserts: Vanilla Pannacotta, Chocolate Brownie, Italian ice cream
All choices are on the a la carte menu.
I had the red mullet, risotto and pannacotta. To be honest, I wasn't overly impressed by the red mullet. It was beautifully presented on square plates with lots of sauce squiggles, salad and squid, but I thought it was rather bland. The squid was great though. However, everyone else thought it was wonderful, so perhaps it was just me. The risotto was beautiful though. It was very simple, but perfectly seasoned and accompanied by roasted red pepper and tomatoes. As for the pannacotta, which came with poached strawberries and mint, it was divine, wonderfully creamy, yet oddly light at the same time. Definitely the best pannacotta I've ever had. I suppose the food is more French-style than anything else - tasty, but with subtle flavours.
Everyone else was very pleased with their choices. The beef looked a little rare for my tastes, but I know a lot of people like it that way. The chips looked crunchy on the outside and crispy in. And the salmon was apparently beautifully cooked. Best of all, I thought the portion sizes were perfect. Initially when the starters came out, I thought they were going to err on the side of quality rather than quantity. However, it did mean that we were all able to find room for the desserts - something I often find I can't manage because the other courses have filled me up.
We were offered a choice of red or white wine with the meal, as well as sparkling and still water. Glasses were kept topped up without having to ask for a refill, which made it a little difficult to keep up with how much we were drinking; needless to say, it was quite a lot during the course of the evening. The wine was very nice - I think the red wine was Argentinian and I really enjoyed it. There is a full list of drinks for individual diners and a well-stocked bar, but obviously being part of a party, we didn't look at it in any great detail. The coffee at the end of the evening was excellent and piping hot.
Service was excellent throughout. The staff were incredibly polite and friendly, without ever over-stepping the mark. Any requests were handled with a smile and plates were brought to the table and taken away afterwards with the minimum of fuss. It is a long time since I have seen such a high standard of service, especially in London.
The toilets were extremely clean, if a little basic. There were only two for the ladies for the entire restaurant, situated at the foot of the stairs, unless there was another set of toilets I couldn't find. However, I didn't ever have to wait, so it wasn't a problem.
Wheelchair access would have been impossible for our first floor area - the only way to access it is by the stairs. However, it wouldn't have been a problem for the downstairs part of the restaurant.
If you are looking for a family friendly restaurant, I doubt this is one - I think it caters for City types before they have children more than anything else.
In the week, the restaurant is open between 12 and 2.30pm, then 6 to 11pm. On Saturdays, it is open between 6 and 11pm. It doesn't open on a Sunday - probably because it is in the City and there isn't a great deal of custom.
This is obviously a pricey restaurant and it is certainly not one I could afford to go to often. I'm not sure what the full cost was, because my friends paid for the food, with everyone chipping in about 20 pounds for the drinks. With nearly thirty people, I imagine it was well over a thousand pounds. A quick look at the price lists on the Internet show that starters cost between 8 and 11 pounds; main courses cost between 16 and 22 pounds; desserts are between 6 and 8 pounds. I suspect that by the time we factored in water, coffee and wine, each person would have paid in the region of 70 pounds.
We all had a lovely evening; the company was good, the food was great and the drinks were flowing. I would like to go back sometime, but I would either need a massive pay increase or someone rich enough to take and pay for me. However, if money is no object, you can't really go that wrong here and it would make a lovely location for a special occasion. Certainly for parties, it is excellent - the organisation is spot on and everyone is made to feel welcome - even though we didn't leave until about 12 o'clock at night. Highly recommended.