The Well on St. John Street

A Barbican residents’ favourite – The Well

The Clerkenwell area is perhaps the home of the very first gastropubs. The Eagle in Farringdon Road up near Exmouth Market is generally credited with being first of the genre to serve classy food in a pub surroundings, and this has spread and spread across London and the country as a whole. The Well in St John Street, a little the other side of Clerkenwell Road is very much of the type and again is one of the earlier examples of a gastropub and has, for a long time, been a favourite with Barbican residents being only about 10-15 minutes walk from most of the estate.

The Well is run by the ETM Group, which residents will know from their management of both Chiswell Street Dining Rooms and The Jugged Hare, both of which have been reviewed in these pages in the past. It has the advantage of being open 7 days a week and by repute its Saturday and Sunday brunches are excellent – if you can get in. Our meal there was on a weekday evening and it was not crowded at all – bit still quite noisy through a largish party of drinkers who moved inside from obviously starting their socialising outside. The Well has bare wooden floors which means it can be a little on the noisy side, but at least it doesn’t have loud pop music blaring away as seems to be the trend in many places nowadays.

Tables and chairs inside are clunky solid wood ones – not looking in danger of collapse as can be the case in The Eagle – and there were attentive staff. Our Hungarian waitress, Dorothea, was extremely pleasant, helpful and attentive which always helps when assessing a restaurant’s ambience and The Well was indeed pleasant. In good weather one can eat and/or drink outside, although St John Street can be quite a busy road.

There is a menu with plenty of interesting looking dishes on it as well as a few specials on blackboards on the wall. I started with queen scallops with bacon, broad beans and wild garlic (£9.50), which sounded better than it tasted unfortunately. I think I may have been spoilt on scallops with the delicious ones served at The Chiswell Street Dining Rooms. My companion had half a dozen Maldon (£13.50) which were served nicely and she deemed to be excellent. With oysters though, provided they are well sourced , it is difficult to go wrong.

For the main course I had grilled whole plaice with sprouting broccoli, almonds and a brown shrimp butter sauce (£14.50), which was truly excellent. I do enjoy plaice and this was a particularly nice piece of fish, cooked to perfection – a great choice.

My companion had the breaded veal escalope with fried duck egg, and anchovy and caper butter (£15.50). An interesting combination which she said worked extremely well, was very tasty but deemed the veal a little on the chewy side. It was, however, a very large portion which she was unable to finish just to make sure she had room for even a light dessert. Main course dishes varied in price from £11 for a vegetarian tortellini up to £24 for rib of beef.

Desserts are £5.50 – or £5 for home made ice cream or sorbet. I had an excellent plum crumble – not oversweet with damson ripple ice cream on the side. My companion went for a fig sorbet accompanied by a crème fraiche sorbet – again an interesting combination which worked well. Wines start from £16.50 a bottle for the ETM Group’s house offerings. We had a bottle of their Chardonnay/Sauvignon blend which was very good.

Eating at The Well could perhaps be considered fairly pricey – although perhaps not by local standards these days – however it is definitely worth checking websites like Square Meal, London eating and Top Table as it frequently has offers of up to 50% off which would put it into the very good value bracket. The food is good, the service is good and the ambience is good. People like The Well which is a great recommendation in its own light.

And although I haven’t partaken of it the Sunday lunch menu in particular looks like it would make The Well an excellent destination for this. Lunch is served from noon up until 9.30 pm (definitely a late lunch at that time!) and is effectively a cut down version of the dinner menu with the additional choice of two roasts which, by all accounts are excellently prepared and served with all the trimmings (£15.50). There is also a brunch menu available from 10.30 to 1 pm.

The Well is at 180 St John Street – call 020 7251 9363 for reservations.

Lawrence Williams – August 2012