Restaurant St. Barts, Smithfield review ★★★★★
The trio behind Nest and Fenn are on course to conquer Zone 1’s fine dining scene with Restaurant St. Barts
This tucked away Zone 1 outpost could be described as founders Johnnie Crowe, Luke Wasserman and Toby Neill’s look-what-we-can-do-now-we’ve-made-it restaurant. The trio have pulled out all the stops to create a lavish, Michelin-aspiring dining experience likely to appeal to those on City salaries – not a rare breed in this corner of London.
Photo: Steven Joyce
Restaurant St. Barts serves a 15-course tasting menu for £120pp, with a six-course lunch variation for half the price. Go with the former and the first seven dishes – humbly referred to as ‘snacks’ – are enjoyed in a laidback bar area, with an aperitif (do get a glass of English sparkling in the form of Hundred Hills rosé from Oxford), before sauntering through to the dining room proper for the rest. This two-stage seating arrangement is a lesson in suspense building, perhaps, or an awareness on behalf of the trailblazing trio that there’s merit to be found in easing guests into a fine dining extravaganza, where often the best conversations are had over an intimate drink before it gets formal.
We begin the night on fleecy, reclining chairs, where an envelope sealed with a wax stamp is pressed into our hands. Inside is our menu for the night. It’s a seasonal affair, with flavours proudly spanning the length and breadth of the British Isles. But it soon becomes clear that no three- or four-word description can accurately capture the mastery of the canapé-sized morsels that arrive: we ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over cuts of house-cured mangalitza soaked in cider; cobnut ‘Hobnobs’ sandwiching berry-flecked rounds of duck liver; and a showstopping ‘East End seafood cocktail’, served in a delicate oyster shell with foam, caviar and tiny dollops of horseradish for good measure. There are cod fritters too, delicately battered in salt and pepper powder, and a dish to make even the most squeamish palate change its mind about offal: a kebab of thinly sliced tongue and heart that had been marinated overnight. Just eat it, you won’t regret it.
Photo: Steven Joyce
By the time we’re led to our table (a simply dressed wooden number near a glass wall overlooking the ancient cloisters), there’s no question about the calibre of dining on offer here. Once seated in our new surroundings it just… continues. House-milled sourdough; deliciously chewy dehydrated tomatoes swimming in a garlic jus; shreds of crabmeat in a nutmeg foam; and a rare hunk of beef with alliums arrive one after the other. Regardless of whether you think taking photos of your food is unsophisticated, you’ll want to document each new arrival to the table here, so that when you wake up the next morning and it all feels like a fever dream (especially if you opt for the highly recommendable wine pairing for an additional £80pp), you can relive the best bits.
Except, there aren’t really any best bits. More accurately, there are no duds. Each dish is as inventively wow-factor as the last – and many come with a touch of tableside theatre (which somehow confirms the expense is worth it, right?). They remain playful until the very last, too: a late appearance of duck with glistening berries tumbling over it arrives stylishly dwarfed by a giant slate, before we, the diners, dwarf a miniature brioche loaf that follows.
Service is impeccable – attentive but not overbearing – and ambience, not easy to get right in an awkwardly shaped, anonymously modern building like this one, is spot on too. (Do pay a visit to the bathroom even if you don’t need it, to admire its stony basin and terracotta walls.)
Restaurant St. Barts is special occasion dining par excellence – and it’s hiding in plain sight.
Restaurant St. Barts, 63 Bartholomew Close, London EC1A 7BG. Tuesday 6pm - 10pm; Wednesday - Saturday, 12pm - 2:30pm & 6pm - 10pm.