London County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7PB gillrays.com
Mike seeks sustenance between Shrek’s Adventure and the Sealife Centre.
Google maps says you are at Gillray’s Steakhouse and you’re not. Myself and the lovely Jayne stand at the foot of the former County Hall on the Thames, deep in tourist land, searching for clues.
A sign points up steps for the Bao Fa Garden restaurant, so if one eatery is up there others might be right? Sure enough Gillray’s stone framed door is at the end of the building’s columned crescent. I secretly hope this means the tourists below are unaware of an oasis of sophistication.
A generous ceilinged space with a large bar and lounge seating is full of bustle and cosmopolitan chatter as shorts and fanny packs mingle with business suits. A fair few of the more intrepid tourists have indeed managed to find their way in.
Through to the restaurant hugging the curved façade of the building which is quieter. We face a huge window with good views of the north bank, from the Royal Airforce Memorial topped with it’s gilded eagle glinting in the late sun, all the way along to architect Terry Farrell’s post modern lumps of Charing Cross station.
Our Portuguese waiter Joao lowers the blind to spare our squints from the late sun. Catch of the day is Pan fried Coley with orange and carrot puree and baby vegetables and I immediately know this will be Jayne’s choice. Likewise she knows I’m going to have a steak – it is a steakhouse after all.
For contrast I choose pan fried scallops with pea puree, mint and smoked bacon jam to start, while Jayne orders hot smoked salmon, baby potatoes, Hampshire watercress (not exactly locally sourced) and avocado with grain mustard and lemon dressing. Joao brings complimentary nibbles of mini Yorkshire puds with melted cheese which we try only to nibble, not spoiling our appetites.
As expected, Jayne suffers her classic restaurant dilemma of instantly wishing she had ordered something else - the asparagus soup. Does she want to change it?
No. It’s a common stage of our legion of dates and we both acknowledge it with a laugh. Time to order the wine. A 2012 Chateau Musar Hochar Père et Fils from Lebanon fits the bill with it’s robust character and spicy finish.
My Scallops are melt in the mouth good and don’t need the bacon jam so I savour it’s powerful taste with a bit more of the warm Yorkshire afterwards. Jayne enjoys her chunks of fish rather than the ubiquitous carpaccio of cured salmon and particularly loves the grain mustard dressing paired with the smokiness. She reports the potatoes to be a tad frosty, but she’s incredibly picky with spuds, always making me test for over firmness or frosty versus waxy. If they wouldn't go cold in the process, she'd have them all lab tested.
Joao displays boxed steak knives for me to select. This is the closest I will get to an assassin fantasy of choosing a weapon from a boxed array, smooth bladed or serrated for his pleasure? I’m failing to be cool and decisive, what would Bond choose? Jayne prefers the slender black handled number while I favour a shank so huge it looks like you could whittle a rifle stock in ten minutes. I keep both just in case.
Jayne’s second fish of the day is nicely presented and well cooked with delicate accompaniments although it seems smaller than her starter, while my 500g bone-in prime rib steak is of course huge - like a scaled up chop. I attack it with my knives and it proves to be juicy and pink inside as ordered with big flavour, but the marrowbone less punchy than you’d expect and the béarnaise sauce is a little under seasoned.
I accessorize with the cliché of ‘triple cooked’ chips, which are remarkably like nice chunky once cooked chips and we share some rosemary flat mushrooms and kale with chilly and garlic. As all the items are priced separately by the time you add it all up it’s a costly meal, but of course the view must be factored in.
After consuming the equivalent of a butchers window I’d skip pudding but Jayne has already spotted Gillray’s sherry trifle to share, a nostalgic want of hers since her mother makes one every Xmas. It apparently it warrants a small ceremony and Joao hands over to a young colleague to perform it.
He presents the tall jar of trifle with a separate glass of sherry and thrusts a long spoon deep down one side making a well to pour it in. As he pours, a tiny runnel of sweet liquid drips down his hand and onto his foot. Our substituted waiter explains he is new and I resist remarking that he is literally a ‘trifle’ inexperienced at this. Plenty of sherry does go in and it’s a lovely sweet and creamy finish to the meal.
Before we leave, Joao insists we sip one more drink as he is proud of the Sandeman’s Old Tawny Port from his home country, he’s been a great host. Our cockles warmed we agree Gillrays adds up to a agreeable experience if you have the cash to flash. Once descended to the ground level swathes of night time tourists we toddle off replete to take in the rivers twinkling lights.