36D Shad Thames, London SE1 2YE. www.lepontdelatour.co.uk
New chef, new ideas. Pont de La Tour is finally the restaurant it should have been years ago.
‘Tower Bridge Restaurant’ sounds a bit dull, doesn’t it? You’d imagine it’s a 1960s cafe full of black cab drivers (that’s drivers of black cabs, PC police, calm down) and not a place to seek out.
Say it in French though and it sounds so much more seductive, as most things do of course, and Le Pont de La Tour now really is a place to take a someone for an impressive first date.
Located in the ancient alleyways of the old warehouse buildings, a place needing only the modern signs taken down to be successfully used in any period drama. Le Pont de La Tour, in short, must have one of the best locations for a restaurant in London.
The bar area is very welcoming with a proper Paris brasserie feel and, from the look of it, proper brasserie food - simple, classic and not too heavy.
Past the bar is the restaurant proper. Tonight, it’s a cosy haven as a cold, damp wind whips along the river Thames, setting the boats just outside the window rocking at their moorings.
There’s a new chef at Pont, Julien Imbert, serving food to customers it seems who are mostly over thirty, eating as couples or at tables of four. The kind of diners that so many restaurants seem to have forgotten about.
They want a very good meal, at a fair price, and are not usually interested in or impressed by star chefs, sharing plates, or ‘influencers’ gabble. Normal people, basically. The bedrock of any long term successful restaurant
The menu reads appropriately - French cooking, modernised. Nothing too outré sounding, no cooking methods derived from cavemen. Proper cooking.
Starters are all cold, but for the soup, and P has the cured salmon, miso mayonnaise, pickled cucumber and lemon gel. A plate that is in fact yearning for Instagram fame, but it’s too dark in the restaurant for me to take a picture. Brilliant, I can put the phone away then.
Looking around, I can’t actually see anyone taking pictures; perhaps it’s the lack of light or perhaps the clientele are just more interested in eating and each other? P loves the salmon, particularly the lemon gel against the rich oily, clearly well-sourced, fish and the dark umami of the miso helps give the whole dish a feel of high end Japanese dining without the high price tag.
My terrine is a bit of a curate’s egg, though. Some sections are very tasty with a pleasant texture, some are a bit gristly, overall it seems to lack punch flavour-wise. Perhaps it’s under seasoned, or more likely it’s too cold?
I do enjoy the toasted bread served with it. I’ve started to make my own sourdough bread at home so I have of course become a boring armchair expert on bread. In that capacity, I can say that while this toasted bread is very good, the bread served on the side is too wet.
Halibut, the name makes me smile. So does the fish, I’ve never met a halibut I didn’t like. Here it sounds very interesting - Gigha halibut, curry veloute, mussels and a gruyere crust. I Google Gigha under the table; it’s halibut from the Scottish island of Gigha.
Giggedy! I say out loud in Quagmire’s voice, startling a passing waiter. The farming methods and sustainability sound exemplary. I’m a bit worried though, that cheese sounds a bit daring.
No worries, it is hands down the best thing I’ve eaten in ages. The curry veloute only has a waft of spice, like walking past an Indian restaurant. The mussels are in generous quantity, sweet as sugared pillows, and that fish is superb.
The cheese crust really works, the cheese tang melds with the snow-white fish. Crisp, light, croutons bob vivaciously on the surface of the veloute. Total success.Dewaldt Heyns Weathered Hands Chenin Blanc, the clever and attentive sommelier’s suggestion to drink, is a real discovery. A delicious creamy wine that adores the fish as much as I do.
And, smooth transition alert, P adores her lamb dish. I can see for myself it’s perfectly cooked, not only that but perfectly rested too, an even rosy pink all the way through. Salt marsh lamb, braised shoulder, black garlic emulsion and lemon yoghurt to be precise, on a bed of ratatouille with some artichoke jauntily perched on top of it all.
It’s another hit, I would try some but I can’t get near it as P is waving a fork defensively. ‘It’s what I have to do,’ I wail but she is unmoved. She knows her lamb though and says the lemon yoghurt is an inspired partner. Her own partner has to give up the struggle and stick with the fish.
We had a billowy, creamy, pomme puree and vibrant, crisp, green beans on the side and these went with both dishes well; simple foils to the main acts. I could have eaten that puree all night.
As usual I eat dessert out of obligation, I really don’t go a bundle on sweet things. I do like my tarte tatin though, a just-enough dish of glorious gooeyness set off by fine ice cream. Not too sweet, just right.
It’s good to see Le Pont now coming up with what it has always promised but, for me, never quite achieved before.
They always had the location, now they have the food and decor to deliver.
So Allez, vite!
Photo from the restaurant website