Funky Fergus Henderson: sweetbreads, pig head & bone marrow
Nose to tail eating pope chef Fergus Henderson cooks in a way that you rarely see nowadays. We highly recommend his London restaurants.
(photo credit: the picture of Fergus Henderson comes from the St John restaurant instagram account and was taken by photographer Sam A. Harris – for removal, please contact us.)
Do you have a favorite chef?
If we would have to choose one, then we would definitely go for chef Fergus Henderson.
If you ask Luc, then he would say because of Fergus’s use of seasonal produce and classic cooking approach. No frills and fancy tricks, just good old fashioned cooked meals.
If you are a fan of offal, then you are at the right address here. And that is the main reason why Fergus is June’s favorite chef as well.
Nose to tail eating, you might have heard of the term before.
Not sure if chef Fergus Henderson invented it, but we can say for sure that he is the one who made cooking with offal popular again.
Who is Fergus Henderson?
Fergus Henderson is a renowned British chef.
He was born in 1963.
Quite surprisingly Fergus Henderson isn’t a trained chef. He actually trained as an architect, like both of his parents.
Henderson’s New Zealand wife Margot Henderson is also a chef. She runs the caterers Arnold & Henderson, and is the co-patron and chef of the Rochelle Canteen in Shoreditch.
Fergus Henderson opened the first St John restaurant in Smithfield, London in 1994.
In 2009 it received a Michelin star, and was able to keep it until today.
In 2003 St John Bread and Wine was opened in Spitalfields, London.
Fergus Henderson restaurants
We were able to visit both of his restaurants over the years.
Let’s see how it went!
This restaurant in just around the corner from the famous Smithfield Market.
It is located in an old smokehouse. The old industrial interior was left quite untouched when it was turned into a restaurant. On the ground floor is a bar and a bakery, the restaurant dining room is on the first floor.
It is October when we reserve a table for dinner and we are quite interested to see what seasonal meals are on the menu now.
The restaurant is quite large, and we are glad that we made a reservation because in no time the place is packed. The wooden chairs and tables are the same as in the bar area, only here in the restaurant the tables are covered with white linen.
The waitress brings us menus and we immediately order draft beers as well to start with. The homemade bread and butter on the table are addictive.
The menu looks, as we had rightfully expected, splendid.
Let’s sum up a couple of choices, just to give you an idea.
Nettle soup (8,00), terrine (£9,50), dandelion and shallots (£8,50), salt beef and dill (£11,50), whole crab and mayo (£17,90). Oh, and Fergus Henderson’s signature dish: roast bone marrow and parsley salad (£9,20)!
Or how about brill with little gem and aioli (£24,80), braised tripe with butter beans and mint (£19,50) and smoked eel with bacon and parsnip (£23,80).
There is even a vegetarian option: roast squash, goat’s curd and pickled walnuts (£15,20).
Luc goes for the deep fried sprats and homemade ketchup (£9,20), June will have a go at the duck hearts with lentils and mustard (£8,90).
Both dishes are spot on. The sprats are crips and addictive. The duck hearts are tender and meaty, the lentils are buttery soft and perfectly seasoned. A gorgeous plate of comfort food.
And like we already mentioned, no frills presentation – very Fergus Henderson like.
It is all about product and flavor.
Even if St John’s is well known for its great wine collection (it even has its own winery in France) we decide to stick to draft beer during dinner.
So what’s next?
June is going for another offal dish: lamb sweetbreads, swede and potato stew (£21,90). October is here so Luc was hoping to see game on the menu, and here it is: grouse (£32,00)!
The stew is another plateful of chunky and creamy rich comfort food.
Great autumn flavors!
Luc’s plate makes a lot of heads turn in the dining room.
And not only here: this picture went viral on our IG stories and reached a massive amount of people by using the right Instagram story design.
Yes, the grouse really looks spectacular. It is served with pease pudding, a British side of boiled and mashed split yellow peas. On the side as well a toast with grouse liver.
As Luc starts to cut the bird up, he realises that the breast meat it is unfortunately still raw in the middle. The waitress told us that the grouse is served ‘pink’ here and we like that, but this is clearly undercooked – in other words raw.
He mentions it to the waitress who readily sends it back to the kitchen. A couple of minutes later the breast meat, legs and carcass make it back to our table. It looks perfectly cooked now, pink and juicy.
A chef clearly added it back to a hot pan for a couple of minutes, and made sure to get Luc a clean plate with a fresh scoop of pease pudding and toast.
We are stuffed and decide to skip dessert.
As we walk back outside, we notice quite a few people in the bar feasting on Fergus Henderson’s signature roast bone marrow and parsley salad. And that sounds like a great idea for next time if we are not very hungry.
A couple of draft beers, bone marrow and toast.
So we went back for this treat of course!
Bone marrow, coarse sea salt, flat leaf parsley with tiny capers, and a thick slice of grilled sourdough bread.
The kipper with potatoes was to die for as well.
St John Bread and Wine
One warm July day around 1pm we are in the Spitalfields area.
And that is not a coincidence, we are here for a light lunch.
Our love for Fergus Henderson’s food has brought us here.
St John Bread and Wine restaurant is half full as we walk in and we get a table in the middle.
The menu looks promising and so do the suggestions on the blackboard.
Let’s see what we got here.
Pig’s head stew (£8,30), sea bass for two (£36), smoked dexter (£16,30), old spot cheeks (£16,10), beetroot & horseradish soup (£6,90), goat’s curd and mint (£8,30).
Suggestions are middle white pork belly and aioli salad (£8,10), crumbed mutton and green sauce (£8,10), sweetbreads with peas and bacon (£8,10), foie gras and duck liver toast (£7,90), plaice with kohlrabi and chervil (£15,90).
It is difficult to decide and it takes us a while to decide.
So much so that before we know it, the sweetbreads seem to fly out of the kitchen and that option is taken off the blackboard. What a pity, June is a huge sweetbreads fan.
Here come our meals.
The middle white pork belly and aioli salad (£8,10) is for Luc.
On his plate sits a good handful of crunchy fresh little gem lettuce leaves coated on a tasty garlicky aioli dressing. Topped with croutons and crispy fried bits of pork belly, silky smooth on the inside.
Truly melts in your mouth, delicious.
All this is garnished with watercress sprouts. An excellent and perfectly seasoned dish.
Pig’s head stew (£8,30) it is for June.
Fresh watercress and on top of it a savory looking stew of vegetables, potatoes and fatty bits or pig ear, cheek and snout. Very well seasoned again. I can taste a flavorful hint of mustard there as well. The stew is garnished with pickled chicory and a walnut tapenade.
We love the fact that this bowl comes with a spoon, rustic!
This plate has Fergus Henderson written all over it.
We empty our plates and must admit we are stuffed already. But the menu is way too awesome to stop just now so we choose one more dish, more out of curiosity.
What should we order?
OK, we go for the crumbed mutton and green sauce (£8,10).
It turns out to be a mutton croquette. Thick crunchy deep fried crust on the outside, well seasoned pulled mutton meat on the inside. The green sauce is a mixture of olive oil, fresh tarragon, parsley and baby capers.
What a magnificent lunch address this is!
Would we go back?
Yes, chef Fergus Henderson cooks in a way that you see rarely nowadays.
Fair to say that he is the brain behind the splendid ideas on the menu, however you might not see him behind the stove.
Fergus Henderson has had his share of health problems since 1998 when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s decease. However his passionate kitchen staff still delivers.
So yes, we can’t wait to be back in London.
Fergus Henderson rocks!
26 St. John Street
St John Bread and Wine
94-96 Commercial St