St John Hotel
It might be stretching it to include a place purely on the basis of its single cake offering, but this is no ordinary cake.
St John Hotel owner Fergus Henderson has long championed elevenses, the highly civilised mid-morning break that offers a chance for a drink and something fortifying to see one through to lunch. He practices what he preaches, and was to be seen in the simply furnished bar (so simple it could be accused of being antiseptic) soon after 11.00 partaking of a little ‘something to keep you steady’, as he puts it on the very succinct menu. The ‘little something’ in this case is the most delicious seed cake (£3), fresh from the oven in the hotel kitchen, thickly sliced and served with a glass of Madeira - a taste of a more leisured, less hurried way of life.
The idea of a cake is as important as the cake itself, and seed cake comes laden with nostalgia and allusions to a different time and culture. It has been scorned for its dryness and plainness, but in a gifted baker’s hands these shortcomings are turned into virtues. Unlike the economical seed cake of yesteryear, which was too often made with cheap ingredients and overkill with the caraway seeds, the St John seed cake is a gently flavoured, eggy-buttery dense sponge that belies its plain appearance. Madeira at eleven in the morning may be the height of indulgence, but it is undoubtedly the ideal partner for seed cake, and a lovely way to reclaim a moment in the day that is all too often lost.
Fergus Henderson and his master baker, Justin Piers Gellatly, are to be applauded for reviving a special cake moment.
[Elevenses are also served in the St John restaurants in Smithfield and Spitalfields (see website) where the unbelievably brilliant St John Eccles cakes are also available. These are solid Eccles cakes, the like of which you won’t find anywhere else, and the textbook buttery flaky pastry is densely packed with black, sweet currants. They are a meal in themselves, and would certainly keep you going till lunch which at St John could include made-to-order with tiny madeleines served, like oysters, by the half-dozen and dozen, or even until the St John Hotel mid-afternoon ‘little bun moment’ when ‘warm little buttock-like buns’ come out of the oven.]
1 Leicester Street
Tel: 0203 301 8020
Elevenses served from 11.00
Little Bun Moment 3-5pm