St. John, led by Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver and the most influential London restaurant of the last 25 years, is opening its first international outpost — in Culver City, Los Angeles.
The restaurant, which has been three years in the making, will open at the Platform development, scheduled for October 2020. It will join outposts of Sweetgreen; British designer Tom Dixon; Roberta’s, the celebrated Brooklyn pizza export; rooftop restaurant Margot; bakery Bianca; and fancy ice cream brand Van Leeuwen.
The former head chef of St. John’s original restaurant on St John Street in Smithfield, Farringdon — Jonathan Woolway — will lead the expansion. The brand is perhaps best-known, internationally, for its nose-to-tail philosophy.
The move will be seen as a surprise by some; it is the first time St. John has opened outside of London. And though its connections to the American restaurant cognoscenti runs deep, New York City would have been the obvious location for its first stateside expansion. But the American restaurant scene has changed — or rather, at its most cutting edge and dynamic, it has skewed westwards: New York operators, like Roberta’s and David Chang (with Majordomo), have relocated to the southern Californian coast, while American food media has too signalled the new pre-eminence of Los Angeles as the food city of America in the last 12 months. The LA Times reinvigorated its food section by hiring Peter Meehan of Lucky Peach, columnist and occasional reviewer Lucas Peterson, and two new critics — Patricia Escárcega and ex-Eater critic Bill Addison, following the death of the city’s restaurant critic sans pareil, Jonathan Gold. The New York Times also hired Tejal Rao as its first California critic, in a clear endorsement, and prioritising, of the city’s importance to American dining in 2019.
St. John characterisation as a British restaurant is correct, if a little reductive. So much of St. John’s success has been in its ability to present French and Italian cooking traditions and customs in a British context. And with that, in some senses, it seems fitting that this singular restaurant — and brand — would head for an American city whose climate, produce, and energy is much more closely aligned to southern Europe than, say, New York, which, by contrast, is closer, culturally, to northern European cities, like London, Paris, or Milan.
What’s more, Gulliver told Eater that the group doesn’t really like to do things that people expect. And they want to have some fun at the same time as readying the restaurant brand for its next era.
St. John, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in London next week, opened in old bacon smokehouse on the edge of the Smithfield meat market in October 1994. In May 2003, the group opened its second outpost, St. Bread and Wine, on Commercial Street in Spitalfields. It has since opened and closed both a hotel-restaurant in Leicester Square and a restaurant on Maltby Street in Bermondsey; it has since expanded its bakery division with a small site in Seven Dials, Covent Garden.
LA, though, is huge — in more ways than one.
The influence of the group is remarkable, if not unparalleled, with so many of its chefs and staff earning reputations of their own, both in London and around the world. Its identity and aesthetic, too, is inimitable. The whitewashed walls, concrete and parquet flooring defining the genre of architectural-utilitarian design. Or abattoir chic, as it is sometimes referred.
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