St John’s Eccles Cakes

Oh how I miss St John.

I miss those sneaky mid week lunches at Bread and Wine and buying my Eccles cake before I ate just in case they were all gone by the time I finished.

This year has been the year for conquering recipes. Finally having a kitchen to myself makes me feel much more free to hog it all day, make a huge mess and use every pan in the place. I can give time to those recipes I have put on the back burner.

Making rough puff pastry is one thing I’ve had a bit of a head block on. You think, it’s too hard, too time consuming and you decide won’t attempt it.

In reality, it’s not that hard and it’s not that time consuming. More than that, it’s very satisfying to realise you can do it. Although I did have to watch a youtube video to make sure I understood the pastry rolling and folding instructions correctly.

These cakes originate from a small town called Eccles which used to be in Lancashire but has since been enveloped as a suburb of growing Manchester. Purists would include lard in the pastry although St John have omitted it. Traditionally the three slits in the top represent the Holy Trinity. The recipe for these little flaky current filled pastries was shared here in The Guardian.

My Seven Links: A Look Back and A Glimpse Forward

It’s been a year since I left London, to return to Australia. As I expected it has not been an easy ride. Thankfully Sydney is a beautiful city to come home to and the New Year has introduced itself with such gorgeous weather it’s hard not to be cheered up.

One of the people I met in London was Gourmet Chick. In fact her blog was one of the first I started to read. Her great blog grew into a well respected site for honest restaurant reviews, cookbook reviews, and great travel tips on where to sleep and eat. She has since moved back to Australia too (yeah!)

Some time ago she asked me to follow her in sharing my Seven Links outlined by the TripBaseblog. I’ve finally got around to it.

1. My Most Beautiful Post

Rhonda is a beautiful city, without a doubt. A gorge divides the old and new towns creating with it a stunning secret escape for entraped Spanish royalty. With Rhonda comes the famous Andulucian dish, gazpacho. The key to this dish is of course great tomatoes. In Australia the hot summer sun brings garden tomatoes to their glory. If your overwhelmed by endless tomatoes, try a gazpacho!
2. My Most Popular Post

My first attempt at a chiffon cake was a great success, not only with my work colleagues but surprisingly, it became my most popular post. Thanks to the wonderful book put together by the Monday Morning Cooking Club ladies, I managed to pull off a cake that defied gravity. I’ve graduated to slicing, filling, and lathering them with buttery frostings. Possibly this was not the intention for the airy, delicate cakes, but it tastes good.

3. My Most Controversial Post

I am normally quite democratic when I write a post about a restaurant. I don’t think The Harwood Arms was any exception. It’s all about one persons opinion, and I am no expert, but I try to write about my dining experience in an honest way. By the time I finally got to The Harwood Arms, after the post-Michelin star crowds, I thought it had lost it’s way a little. It was also pointed out by a few people that I had not ordered the scotch egg, which is raved about. It’s said to be amazing, but it’s only on the bar menu and I ate in the restaurant area. I don’t think an eating establishment should ride off the back of a scotch egg but then again, sadly, I didn’t have one.
4. My Most Helpful Post

I was so excited when I found this little gem in Annandale. Sitting on busy Parramatta Road it could be easily missed as you speed past on your way home. I really urge you to stop and pop in for a look. The owners run the shop, have reasonable prices and are very helpful. They will be getting a large shipment of mid-century furniture in, from the UK and Europe, in the next few months. Well worth a stop in I think.
5. The Post Whose Success Most Surprised me

A simple banana cake, nevertheless people seemed to think it looked good. It did taste good too. The addition of sour cream made it extra moist and slightly richer. Thanks Donna 🙂
6. A Post I Feel Didn’t Get The Attention It Deserved

I have alot of respect for Anna Hansen. I hope she sits back sometimes and takes the time to smile and think “I’ve made it, I did it “. Knowing a little of what she is like, that seems unlikely. She is a very hard working woman, working her way up from dishwasher to owning her own restaurant. A restaurant that pulls flavours from across the culinary world to create something interesting. To me the combinations may sometimes seem a bit ‘out-there’ but for Anna a natural combination to achieve what she wants. I just got her first cookbook and I’m looking forward to trying my hand a few things.
7. The Post I Am Most Proud Of

I love St John, I really do. I can’t believe I miss it so much. It was the place I could always rely on. I think you get the idea that I love the place, and their bone marrow and parsley salad, in this post. What makes this post even more memorable for me is that David Chang sat at the table across from me that day, as I sucked the fat off the toasted sourdough, and I didn’t even really care.

Part of posting your seven links is nominating others to follow.The lovely Miss Piggy has gladly taken up the challenge 🙂

St John and the bone marrow, parsley salad

Any excuse to have lunch at St John Bread and Wine and I was there. I was living on the other side of London so I would somehow incorporate it into a shopping trip to Shoreditch on my day off or on the way to see a friend, anything. As I sat there, usually dining alone, I would pour over the menu wondering if I should order a few starters, and how many I could fit in by myself, or a main and dessert, decisions, decisions.

After reading Anthony Bourdain’s book, Kitchen Confidential, some years ago, I remember he was asked if he had to choose his last meal ever it would be St John Restaurant’s bone marrow and parsley salad. When Anthony Bourdain speaks I tend to take note.  So where was this great bone marrow salad that they supposedly serve here at St John? I’ve never seen it on the menu?

After speaking to one of the chefs it all became clear. I had to go to St John Smithfield (HQ) if I wanted the dishes St John was famous for, the dishes people travel great distances to consume. St John Bread and Wine is the baby sister, and as such have a wider scope in which they can create dishes whilst still in keeping within the ethos of St John.

When I think of St John I think of food cooked simply to bring great British produce to the table with a minimum of fuss, and the bone marrow and parsley salad.

Obviously I had to make a trip to St John Smithfield to check it out and a few times after that just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke or anything…

I ate it thinking Anthony you are right, you are so right! The rich bone marrow fat pulled from the centre of the bone looks slightly unnerving sitting on the toasted bread so the fact that you then cover it with leaves of parsley, salty capers, thin onion and wet salt, makes it easier for the first bite to get to your mouth.  After that you don’t care. I didn’t care that I sat in a rare print 1950’s dress with stockings and heels, my hands covered in bone marrow fat and my face feeling like it was as well. I could have another one but I had already ordered a main.

Yes I know that people have been eating bone marrow for centuries and St John didn’t totally invent the dish or anything, but they did put it on the menu along with alot of other foods and cuts of meat, people had forgotten about. Yes pigs head comes to mind along with various sea vegetables.

The brill and slow roasted fennel was beautiful. Perfectly cooked fish with super crusty buttery skin, love it, although the fennel was a bit heavy in olive oil for my liking. Anyway I had just had the bone marrow, I was happy.

My favourite ever dessert from St John B&W was a lemon posset with the best shortbread I have ever had. A cherry tart with sour cream ice cream came very second close. Today all I could fit in was a lemon sorbet with the obligatory vodka shot.

At both sites St John have their bakery section open for select public purchases. I can never leave without bagging a loaf of their heavy tasty bread and a eccles cake, today I thought I may as well pop in some freshly baked madeleines along side my haul. They bake them to order so there is often an amazing smell wafting out of the bakery.

Slowly spooning the cleansing, refreshing sorbet into my mouth, I sat there planning how it would be so easy, and not to mention cheap, to make the bone marrow salad myself. Of course I haven’t yet, probably just as well, I’m guessing my coronary arteries would not thank me for that regular dose of fat.