Leaf’s Lunches: St John’s

LEAF ARBUTHNOT has returned, throwing herself yet again at a whirlwind adventure of salad bars and till ladies. All hail to the Queen of Munch.

canteen Dinner food Formal Leaf Arbuthnot leaf's lunches lunch salad St John's College vegetarian

[rating: 4.5/5]

In films, the villains always get to feast – think Hook, think Governor Ratcliffe, think Fat Bastard. Rather irritatingly, St John’s buttery appears to have taken this maxim very much to heart and is providing its students/spawn with truly exceptional food.

As you enter the lair, there are no celebratory yells of: ‘this food is blimmin’ fantastic!’ The faces at the trayed tables are masks of studied nonchalance; nobody is smacking their lips, plates are unlicked, everything seems normal – but it bloody well isn’t.

A portrait of hunger

John’s Hall is reserved for Formal so most meals are conducted in a cafeteria. Theirs is nothing to write home about though pleasant in its way. We queued for 300 or so seconds; the wait was made bearable by the fact that I was able to scout out others’ meals and thus inform my decision.

The food was simple – there were Thai-style prawns: plump, saucy, crunchy and moreish, solid roast potatoes, an exciting halloumi pasta dish for the vegetarian contingent. The vegetables deserved raised eyebrows; indeed I have never, ever encountered canteen cabbage as good. My John’s friend/foe had what was essentially a steak Cornish pasty; he seemed content.

An elegant ensemble

Before waxing lyrical about the salad dressings, I should probably admit that I didn’t actually go to John’s for lunch: I went for dinner. So shoot me. Alliteration is king.

Anyway – the salad dressings. Caesar was represented; even the thousand islands had sent an ambassador. Dazzlingly, there were seeds thoughtfully placed next to these dressings, inviting salad-minded folk to sprinkle their bowl with extra health.

The dressings were out in force

It wasn’t perfect – the canteen was a shade too peopled; it was at times hard to hear what my table-sharers were saying. We had stood in line.

Yet all was redeemed by the presence of armchairs and newspapers at the back of the canteen, offering the lone diner dignity in his or her solitude, as well as the opportunity to hatch plans for world domination in comfortable insouciance.