The Book of St. John cookbook review: A paean to the good life from two great bons vivants 

st john 
Ferguson Henderson, co-founder of St John  Credit: Carl Court 

Opened in 1994 by chef Fergus Henderson 
and restaurateur Trevor Gulliver, St John restaurant, in London’s Farringdon, has redefined British cuisine, chiefly by looking to the past: a devotion to offal (Henderson spearheaded the nose-to-tail movement) and elevating old-school British fare (his rarebit is a thing of beauty). This book (Ebury, £30), celebrates the 25-year anniversary
 wonderfully.

Fergus Henderson (left) and Trevor Gulliver  Credit: Jason Lowe

The approach

Across five lengthy chapters, the book guides us through the basics of meaty cooking (this isn’t one for the offal-averse, but there are salads, desserts and cocktails aplenty), with writing and pictures (though not all recipes are illustrated) as mouthwatering as the food.

Each recipe – at times each ingredient – is deified with humorous, nostalgic and elegant prose. Curly parsley is the “dating agent of the salad world”; a brine bucket is like “Heathrow Terminal 5, from which each delicious part can be taken when the time is right”.

We are also given a behind-the-scenes peek, from owners’ lunches to annual parties. A ticket to the St John inner circle is a dream; this book makes it a reality.

The recipes

Predictably, these are offal-heavy: fitting with Henderson’s mantra, nothing is left unconsidered. A challenge, in parts, especially finding butchers stocking certain produce; but this is for the adventurous.

Braised beef shin

My dark, sticky, sweet and highly unphotogenic braised beef shin 

An accessible dish, beef shin (on the bone), is braised low and slow with onions, red wine and port, to be poured at the end “as a spiritual gesture”. It’s rich and melt-in-the-mouth tender, sweet, tart and sticky with marrow. A perfect marriage of simple ingredients, and one that’s worth playing around with (oxtail would work wonders). An unmitigated hit.

Roast bone marrow and parsley salad

Roast marrow with parsley salad and homemade bread

Arguably St John’s most famous dish, one eulogised by the late Anthony Bourdain. Luckily, it’s easy to recreate, though I had to replace veal marrow with beef, based on what I could find. Oven-cooked marrow is spread on toast like butter and topped with a tangy parsley, lemon, shallot and caper salad. Delicious.

Devilled kidneys

Devilled kidneys on toast 

Henderson’s favourite birthday breakfast consists of kidneys covered in flour laced with mustard and cayenne, then fried in butter, stock and Worcestershire sauce. Kidney is demanding – a little strong for me – but the seasoned veteran should find plenty to admire here.

The verdict 

A paean to food, drink and life from two great bon vivants. “When we first opened St John we were accused of being 200 years out of date, which we took as a great compliment,” the authors write. Clearly, they love what they do.

It’s not necessarily the easiest to cook from. Rather than precise temperatures, you’ll see “a gentle to medium oven” or the “calmest of simmers”, though they have their very own conversion chart at the end. An experienced cook may take away more than the complete novice. Nevertheless, it’s a touching, funny, greedy testament to arguably London’s most influential restaurant.