Lunch @ St.John, Smithfield

It’s Friday and we are having lunch at St. John’s Bar in Clerkenwell! Bella and I set off for the eatery around noon.

We must hurry!

St.John’s Bar was a very popular joint in Smithfield. Therefore, if you want to avoid disappointment, you must beat the crowd by arriving well early.

The place was getting busier by the minute…

Only if the bar area took a reservation instead of this “first comes, first served” business! I sighed and placed my belongings on the chairs around one empty table by the bakery.

St.John’s bakery. Behold those plump jam doughnuts!

By looking at the photo, I am thoroughly regretting about not bringing them home after the lunch.

Good old St.John…

A former smoke house on St.John Street was turned into a restaurant, named St.John in 1994. I can’t remember exactly when but I did visit the restaurant with one of my flat mates in the mid 90s. From the beginning, the eatery was the talk of the Londoners. And we were dying to find out about all the fuss we were reading in the papers and magazines.

Because the restaurant was situated right next to Smithfield Market – a famous wholesale meat market which was in business since the 10th century, the menu offered by their kitchen was an orgy of various bovine parts. I can’t recall what I ate but it was definitely a bit chewy and very weird.

Another things I remembered was their spartan-like atmosphere. The first word popped up in my head was “refectory”. Dining in there was like eating in a monastic refectory and being served by monks. Everything in there, including foods, was deliberately austere. Their whitewashed walls, their simple furniture, their rather harsh lightings, their plain white aprons worn by the waiters and their foods served intentionally in a “no-frills” manner, were all screaming at me ‘We are different! We are hip! We are the future!!’ Ever since that night, I have been a fan of St.John.

So where are our dining companions?

Yeah, where are they? We are supposed to meet in here at 12:30! I bought a glass of cider at the bar and called Hubbie’s mobile.

Shortly afterward Hubbie and our guest arrived and we consulted today’s menu written on the blackboard…

These followings were what we ordered.

Dandelion and roast shallot…

Devilled kidneys on toast…

Cheese and chutney sandwich…

Skate, fennel and green sauce…

All of them tasted absolutely perfect. The thing I love about St.John’s cooking is that the chef brings out the best flavour from each ingredient he/she uses. They might look plain and not very Instagram-friendly, but who will mind it if the foods taste great?

For dessert, we ordered those two pudding’s.

Ginger loaf and butterscotch sauce…

The loaf was very very gingerly.

And mince pie and jersey cream…

I didn’t taste it but Hubbie seemed to love it.

While Hubbie headed back to office by cab, Bella and I headed home on foot. ‘Isn’t it so cold, Bay-Bay?!’ I was shocked how bitterly cold the wind was. We shuffled our feet as fast as we could so we would get home quicker and the fast pace may help to make us warm…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Korean BBQ @ Tohbang, Clerkenwell

Gee…, I don’t think I can eat or drink in public until this sudden bout of cough is resolved. I’ve just had one and it was UGLY.
Listen everyone, if you don’t want to repeat my experience yourself, wash your hands and gargle often & diligently…

Since I won’t be dining out anytime soon, I shall recount about the dinner Hubbie & I had at Tohbang on Clerkenwell Road a few weeks ago. That Friday, Hubbie didn’t drive to work because he was to give a lecture in the early evening. It was raining and I offered him a chauffeur service, provided we could eat out on our way home. Hmm.. What do we fancy? Japanese? No, not tonight. Italian? Meh. Chinese? Don’t fancy it. How about Korean? Oh yeah, it’s been a while since we had one last time! So we settled on Korean BBQ.

The restaurant, Tohbang, was a small but lively eatery on Clerkenwell Road…

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Because of super chill-sensitive Hubbie, we picked our order very carefully from the menu…

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For starters, a plate of Modum Namul – three different vegetables seasoned Korean style…

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And Hubbie’s must have, Pa Joen – spring onion pancake with mixed seafood and vegetables…

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Followed by Goon Mandoo – pan-fried pork & vegetable dumplings…

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Comparing with the counterpart at Sedap, this dumpling was closer to the Japanese version. The skin was thinner and the filling was a mixture of pork mince and finely chopped chives. It was tasty all the same though.

Then, les plats de résistance, Korean barbecues!
Bulgogi – beef marinated with soy sauce, pear juice & sesame oil…

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Samgyupsal – sliced pork belly…

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Galbi – beef rib marinated with soy sauce, pear juice & sesame oil…

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When those three sizzling dishes were brought to our table, the first thought flashed in my mind was not “Yipee!” but “Can we manage them all?!” I honestly thought we might end up having to ask for a doggie bag.

We also ordered Sangchu – a basket of lettuce to wrap barbecue with soybean paste…

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Mmm… It tasted so good.
We also favoured the way they served their barbecues – cooking it in their kitchen instead of grilling it in front of us. It produced much less fume in the dining area, therefore, our hair and clothing were free from the smoky odour.
Another thing I liked about my BBQ not being cooked on the spot was it allowed me to dine in a more leisurely manner. At some other Korean restaurants, a staff, armed with a pair of tongs, mans a piping hot grill on each table and turns the meat systematically. As each piece becomes ready to eat, the staff hands it out to waiting guests in turn, but I find the way they do it tends to be too efficient and hasty. I just can’t help but feel obliged about keeping up with the pace the meat is served. And I don’t find it relaxing, unfortunately.

With the barbecue, we also shared a bowl of Dolsot Bibimbab – beef, egg & vegetables on rice in a hot stone bowl…

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We really thought we could never finish all the dishes, but we did it!
However, I could feel my stomach was truly stretched to its maximum capacity, and the sketch from Monty Python movie – “Mr.Cresote Blows Up” did cross my mind. Oops…

As we walked out of the restaurant, bidding goodnight to the staff, we encountered an extraordinarily spectacle…

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A police officer was arresting a man right by our car!
To be more precise, a guy with a beanie was pressed against the rear of our car while an officer was trying to handcuff him. As the guy swore and struggled, he dropped two small sachets and kicked them into the underside of the car. So Hubbie walked up to them and told the officer what we just saw. The guy swore at Hubbie in retaliation but Hubbie stood his ground, staring back at him really hard. Even though he wouldn’t even kill a fly, being 6’4″, he could tower over most guys and be rather intimidating. Once the guy was handcuffed and subdued, another officer pulled on a pair of purple rubber gloves and got ready to crawl under the car to retrieve the sachets.
“Do you want us to move the car?”, I asked the officer. “Oh yes, that will be great!” He was very happy for not having to crawl on the wet tarmac. Didn’t they realise the car was ours? Until we identified ourselves, they probably thought we were overly nosy bystanders! Hubbie climbed behind the wheel and reversed the car and the officer collected the evidence safely. Shortly afterward, a police van arrived and the man was bundled in and driven away. So that was that. I had never seen anyone arrested right in front of me. And it was rather exciting!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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