Oxbo Bankside

by Nick Harman - Sunday March 5, 2017 1:03 pm

Hilton London Bankside, 2-8 Great Suffolk Street, London SE1 0UG www.oxbobankside.co.uk

Nick makes an unfortunate menu error but still finds Oxbo Bankside an impressive kind of hotel restaurant and with plenty to enjoy.

“What you’ve actually got there,” says J pointing at my plate with his chin, whilst cheerfully sawing into his steak, ‘is breakfast.’

He’s got a point. My plate has three chunky pork belly slices that look like bacon rashers on steroids, and a large fried duck egg that sits on top like the Tellytubby sun. Some halves of shallots are strewn about and caramelised onions lurk in the background.

‘If you had some of these tomatoes,’ he continues, gesturing at his bunch of on the vine examples, ‘you’d pretty much have a full English.’

I rather resent this but it is I suppose revenge for my challenging his choice of steak for his mains. ‘I can’t review a steak,’ I’d argued, ‘order something that demands more skill in the kitchen.’ He wasn’t to be swayed, he had a yen for a lunchtime steak and to be fair there’s something about a hotel restaurant that inclines many a diner that way.

Ah yes, hotel restaurants. Many foodies’ idea of hell would be to be trapped inside one for eternity and I get that. However, I don’t judge hotel restaurants against ‘proper’ restaurants, that’s pointless, I judge them against each other.

And Oxbo Bankside is rather a nice one. It’s large, but divided up quite cleverly so it doesn’t appear to be, and the lighting is moody, a bit manly and overall rather cool.

And I like the aromas from the grill that are wafting over from the open kitchen. It doesn’t feel standard hotel-like but more like an American big city eatery. This lunchtime it seems to be home to some large groups of people, some pairs of men probably having lunchtime meetings, and a few tourists presumably from upstairs and perhaps leery of hitting the mean streets of Southwark to look for sustenance.

Despite the upscaling of the area, Bankside still remains in many places the slightly downmarket backwater it was until relatively recently. I can say this without being snobby because my mother in law used to live in a council flat just around the corner, so I’ve known it a long time.

The menu is also better than many a hotel restaurant offers, not madly trying to cover all cuisines and bases. Instead it sticks to what could be loosely called British food and cheerfully flags up the local provenance of it all. There are even British snails and I think overall that the restaurant should get kudos for what is a very eclectic and tempting menu

So for starters I’d had Grilled Brixham Squid with fennel salad, chilli, garlic, samphire and lemon. This came to table looking far better than expected and it was a pretty good dish but for two small niggles - it was lukewarm and it was over-salted.

However, the squid was perfectly cooked and extremely fine, soft and clean, while the tangle of fennel with its citric hit was a well-balanced affair. I would have added a bit more chili myself as it was so unassertive it almost had its hands up apologising just for being there. I guess that made it very British, we do like to say ‘sorry’ after all

J had decided on scallops, seared spiced ones with avocado yogurt, palm heart and sweet vinegar peppers, to be precise. This kind of dish stands or falls on both the quality of the scallops and the bravery of the cook - less is definitely more. A fierce and brief sear on both sides and then confidently serve.

These were plump, properly caramelised and the avocado yoghurt J reported to be a good idea, even if visually it had been smeared.

And then the Blythburugh Pork Belly, I have to say that as soon as I saw it I wished I’d ordered something else, but that’s because I had not thought it through properly. I was kind of expecting a piece of belly, crunchy crackling etc. What I got was a fine bit of belly slow cooked and sliced but then whacked on the grill to no real great effect. It was all perfectly good, and the egg was delicious, but mea culpa I think on this one.

J had that steak. Simple and with a Béarnaise sauce and those tomatoes. He was worried at first it was more medium than than medium rare, but he’d started from the thin end and soon it was just as he wanted. Quality steak, what more can you say, We both crunched down a green salad, presumably the price of lettuce has now fallen back to normal levels after the Great Lettuce Scare of February 2017, and the chips were dead good.

I had to cut the fattiness after the belly, so had to have Lemon Tart, Meringue and blueberry ganache. Remarkably pretty presentation, sharp clean flavours and smooth delicate pastry too and the blueberry not seen enough on menus.

Raspberry “Crème Brûlée”, the quote marks presumably warning that novelty was coming. And, in fact, the hard caramel had not been left as the traditional carapace to crack through, but was pre broken and placed like flags in the crème.

J liked the crème but thought the caramel too thick and a danger to his teeth and fillings, I understood what he meant. Those of us who grew up pre millennial did not always get the best of dental care on the NHS. Plus, we ate a lot of sweets back in those innocent times and consequently our teeth are like Stonehenge now - big gaps and shored up in places.

Service was of international hotel standard, swift and eager to please and overall we felt it was the kind of place that, while not a ‘destination’ restaurant, was more than up to the mark for casual eating and if local, a night out. The area around Bankside is getting livelier all the time and there’s a place for all kinds of restaurants, not just trendy ones, if it’s to be a place open to all ages and lifestyles. Oxbo is playing its part.

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