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Food

Iconic British restaurant St. John is opening in Los Angeles

British chef Fergus Henderson
British chef Fergus Henderson with a plate of deviled kidneys and a glass of Black Velvet.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

It’s the sort of news that needs no dressing up: St. John, the restaurant that, 25 years ago, helped restore the glories of pork belly, sweetbreads and bone marrow to fancy restaurant cooking, is opening its first outside-of-England restaurant. St. John Los Angeles will open in the Platform shopping center in Culver City in mid-October, if St. John co-owner Trevor Gulliver’s timeline holds.

St. John was lionized by Anthony Bourdain, who wrote in the introduction to chef Fergus Henderson’s cookbook “Nose to Tail Eating,” that meals at the restaurant were “an eye-opening, inspiring, thoroughly pleasurable yet stripped down adventure in dining, a nonsense-free exaltation of what’s good — and has always been good — about food and cooking at its best.”

Over drinks at Culver City steakhouse Dear John’s last week, Gulliver said he and Henderson had chosen Los Angeles “perversely, because it’s what you can do with the fresh produce.” The duo has been traveling to L.A. for years, often staying with their friend, the chef Mary Sue Milliken, and eating widely — at Animal, Bavel, and fellow Brit April Bloomfield’s the Hearth and Hound while it was open.

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They cooked at The Times’ Food Bowl events at the invitation of Jonathan Gold; his ribald affection for their food and the audiences who showed up for those events were testaments to the appeal of St. John’s gusty pleasures even in a city where the sky isn’t always gray.

Vague rumors circulated about St. John making an American incursion for years. Gulliver said they were “close to doing something with” the Astor building in New York, that there were deals in discussion with restaurateur Ken Friedman and hotelier Ian Schrager, but that it all ended up being “too complicated.” The first space they looked at in Los Angeles was the Row DTLA but it, too, “was as complicated as doing something in New York. Also St. John doesn’t work as the attraction for a new shopping mall.”

According to Gulliver, after he and Henderson declined the opportunity at the Row, the same brokers took them to Platform. They were eating lunch outside at Roberta’s and got to chatting with Carlo Mirarchi, the chef of Roberta’s, whom they knew from trips to New York. He spoke well of the developers and the arrangement he’d entered into, and his restaurant was full of “young people,” per Gulliver, and that’s when the pieces started to fall into place.

Construction on the space is underway. “The style is what Fergus and I call Jetson architecture,” Gulliver said, gesturing to suggest large concrete slabs. “Architecturally it makes us smile. And it’s the same size as the Smithfield space,” he said, referring to the location in London of the original St. John. (They operate a second restaurant, St. John Bread + Wine, near the Spitalfields Market in London, and a bakery in Neal’s Yard.) He said it would be half bar seating and half dining room.

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Gulliver, who oversees what you drink at St. John (the sum total of their titles and responsibilities from their website: “Fergus puts it on the plate and Trevor puts it in the glass”), says “it would be great fun” to put together an all-American wine list. His eyes sparkle with delight about the idea, which would not fly in London.

Henderson and Gulliver will be there regularly, but Jonathan Woolway, who joined the brigade at Smithfield in 2008 and became head chef in 2014, is relocating to Los Angeles to run the kitchen. They plan to send some of their California cooks to work in London, and learn at the restaurants there, plus Gulliver says there is a “a groundswell” of interest in joining the restaurant from St. John alums, those who have worked there and now populate restaurants around L.A. and the States.

Recounting a meal in Los Angeles, Gulliver referred to a tortilla as a “taco biscuit,” a usage I will undoubtedly cop, and an affirmation that the viewpoint he and St. John will bring to the Platform will be something new.


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