Margot Henderson played a role in the St John story, and now her joint, Rochelle, strikes out for the big time
Anyone who has come across Margot and Fergus Henderson – the couple – knows that they are close and loving and a pair of food-obsessed hunger mongerers. Which is great.
Sometimes it is easy to see couples as one unit, they have become so used to each other. Now, Fergus is a global cooking legend for starting St John in 1994 with a love of lamb kidneys and pig toes (whatever) but of course, 1) Margot was in on it as well, although we can’t claim to know the extent of her influence. And 2) the cooking was of an excellence, it wasn’t just about the usually thrown-away ingredients and offal puns for the journo.
Margot has always cooked and the Rochelle Canteen in Hackney in an old school was the quirkiest of joints and its relationship with St John was clear to see in its love of pared-back heritage dishes served with an understated passion. But its lineage is always claimed as the catering co set up by Margot and Melanie Arnold when they and Fergus were running the French House in the 90s. And so it remains, and now there is more news.
The new Rochelle Canteen at the ICA is a step up in terms of size, location, clientele (if you know what we mean), but the St John heart remains – how could it not.
The radishes and cods roe is typical. Served with some salad leaves it is simple, authentic and winning (Maschler loves it, Rayner loves it, you get our drift). Pheasant, trotter and prune pie, rabbit and bacon pie with a suet crust, braised fennel sausages, Jerusalem artichokes and salsify, quince and almond tart, meringue, apple pie: it is refectory cooking for the modern and punchy and interesting.
The menu changes regularly and the bar is a sweet nod to its accessible, gallery-visiting crowd, with a small cocktail list, should you feel so obliged and some reasonably priced wines.
The clean white lines will bring inevitable comparison to StJ but then won’t everything they do. This is a place of joy and legacy and there’s a lot to be said for that.