Voted ‘number one’ restaurant in the ‘Kingdom’ of Hay-on-Wye by my trusted friend Trip Advisor; I’d agree. Local cuisine is no rave, though St Johns is a needle in the haystack. Head-chef and owner Julia commands the kitchen. While one exceptionally charming waitress commanded a full restaurant of 20 diners, half of them I knew.
When in need of a detox from London, a brief escape back home is a winner. If Hay were a gear it would have just slid into second. If London were a gear the engine would have blown. Hay-on-Wye, the self-proclaimed Book Town Kingdom in Mid Wales is world famous for its 30 second-hand bookshops, beautiful landscapes and the annual 10-day “Hay Festival”, attracting the biggest in Literature and Arts.
Each trip home, I find a quirky newfangled business and it’s talk of the town. A tapas bar, a bookshop restaurant, a new canoe renting service on the River Wye and a 5 star comfy cinema are the latest introductions, providing entertainment for the serene seeking emerging middle class community. Current talk is St Johns, which couldn’t even fit Chef Carluccio during the literacy festival. It opens three days a week. Why? Because it can, who needs the stress of opening five or seven days a week?
Dad gave me a brief history of St John’s Place. The man was born on the same street 59 years ago, his familiarity should be accurate. A prison, butchers, reading room, a chapel and now a restaurant. There’s no denying St. John’s Place has had a ‘liquorice allsorts’ of characters during its time.
I was immediately captivated by the presence of Kernel Brewery Ale – my local microbrewery from south east London. What a pleasant surprise. With the menu changing according to what’s in season, new delights are always found. Creative and unique dishes celebrate food from across the world. For Nibbles: pickled vegetables – fresh, crunchy and topped with quail’s eggs. There’s a perfect point for a quail’s egg, and she reached it. Cod roe Fritters, which melted in my mouth. For Starters: Sea-bass ceviche mixed with samphire and horseradish – my overall favourite. I was unaware ceviche had even been introduced to Wales. Also, pork and paprika rillettes, they were delicate and complimented with cranberries and Melba toast. Then for mains: Venison served with the best black pudding I’ve had and beetroot, faro and damson. Also, whole place with shrimps, chard and tomatoes. Veggie option was poached eggs, green beans, pancakes and kimchi sesame, stacked into a scrumptious stable tower. Bizarrely, the veggie option was my favourite main. Thanks to my unconventional mother, I was vegetarian until 15, I’ve dealt with numerous veggie catastrophes. Cucumber sandwiches were consumed daily throughout primary school. Finally desserts, twists on British classics: greengage and pistachio tart – heaven. Blackberry, blueberry, lavender and grappa trifle. And lemon curd ice cream with strawberries, meringue and a sneaky vodka shot – local Herefordshire Chase vodka I presume.
Nibbles, Starters, mains, desserts, five bottles of Kernel and a bottle of wine totaled in at £125. Value for money: 8/10. For me, the best thing about this restaurant is that I can drop by every trip home. I’d certainly advise booking ahead as I can smell a Michelin Star.
Value For Money: 8