Anticipation. That is what we felt for the ultra-long awaited opening of St John’s Hotel in Leicester Square. They were due to swing their doors open in November to the public, but yesterday St John’s finally put an end to the waiting. As we crossed Leicester Square this morning, we witnessed the clean up operation from the night before. I remarked to Keith that we had never been here so early in the morning and he chuckled “no, only when we have been still been out from the night before”. Leicester Square used to feel exciting and glamorous when we were teenagers, but today, weaving through shards of broken glass, pigeons feeding on vomit and suspect pools of water (did it rain last night?), we did not feel the sophistication of movie / theatre land. Nonetheless, Leicester Square remains a popular iconic part of London and tourists appear to love it. Thus, it is prime real estate for a hotel.
Sparking off its own hype, St John’s have described their breakfast as “no afterthought” on their website, which is why we found ourselves in the center of London at eight thirty on a Sunday morning. The hotel cast the bait with their audacious self-proclamation and we took it. The facade of St John’s has always been pristine, white decor and today’s setting was no different. The rectangular dining hall was lined at one end with an open kitchen. Pools of light flooded into the room. Unfortunately, what comes in, must go out. Visible through the windows were unsightly bins, orange traffic cones, broken beer bottles and pavement works. Might we suggest frosted glass, just up to the eye line? It would be a preferable canvas for the restaurant’s clientele. I shudder to think what “entertainment” supper diners may have inflicted on them in the evenings. White washed walls can be considered sterile and cold. I wore my coat for the first half an hour until the warmth of the kitchen seeped over the counter.
At the time of booking, we were told that our turnaround time would be one hour fifteen minutes, so we felt under pressure to keep the food flowing. It took a while for someone to take our latte orders, but when they arrived, the coffee was of excellent quality. It was a shame that the cups were so small. We usually have the grande size in the morning, but the serving was probably less than you might expect from an after dinner cappuccino. Incidentally, we ended up ordering two each. The most talked about aspect of the breakfast are the buns. The warmed buns could be described as English style circular croissants. Our selection consisted of three mouth-watering flavours; Plain, fruit and spiced. They were simply delicious. The outer shell was firm with a light crunch, whilst the inside consisted of layers of buttery pastry. I fear I will have nightmares tonight that I may never be able to eat them again. In particular, the spiced bun with seville jam was very reminiscent of Christmas. I almost wished it had been Yuletide.
We followed the buns with a hot course. Keith chose the ham, eggs and fried bread, whilst I picked the Arbroath smokie. The ham, from Tamworth, was very simply cooked. It was exceptional quality and it did not taste as if had been interfered with. The fried bread was crisp but not saturated in oil. The fried eggs were also of a high standard. The yolks were rich and creamy. I thoroughly enjoyed my Arbroath smokie, which was haddock, mashed potatoes and egg, smothered in a creamy sauce infused with fish liquor. As the dish was served in a bowl, a half slice of bread would have been great to mop up all of the scrumptious sauce. I would also heed the food staff to remove all fish bones. A few caught me out. I found it to be a wonderfully warming and comforting dish. It too, had an underlining wintry feel to it. Yes, we were more than satisfied by our dishes, but there were aspects which felt incongruous compared to the spring cerulean blue skies. We could not imagine many customers choosing this dish at the height of summer.
St John’s was not cheap. Our meal cost us £52.00 including tips. Unfortunately, the service was patchy. There were members of staff who appeared experienced and savvy, whilst there were a few who seemed to be merely wandering around. I found what appeared to be an acrylic hair in my food. Later the staff identified the foreign item as a pastry brush bristle. The incident was dealt with professionally and quickly. The quality of the food was excellent and the buns were heavenly (£7.50 for 3 buns), but you are paying for the privilege of being in the milieu of London. The least you can do is enjoy the buns and ask for a double latte.