Arch 50, South Lambeth Place, SW8 1SS www.counterrestaurants.com
All aboard, Nick finds a bar restaurant that is next to a railway station and going in the right direction.
I’ve had some of my best meals near train stations, as well as some of the worst. That’s mostly abroad though, here in the UK it’s usually a simple toss up between terrible and expensive food in the station or terrible but less expensive food outside.
So with some hesitation we approached Counter under the arches at Vauxhall Station.The area is principally known for a large Portuguese population and for being for many years a big part of the gay scene in London. I looked to buy a flat around here back in the 90s and the estate agent was keen to tell me this latter fact as he reckoned it meant the area was definitely on the up.
Now the property prices are really rising sharply and when the new US Embassy is finished will surely go through the loft extension.
Counter seems ready for the next level of interest, it’s just next to the station entrance and it has the right feel for where it is, i.e. it’s got a bit of a Paris/New York brasserie vibe, it expects people to come and go all day and is relaxed about that and is open for brunch, lunch and dinner.
It’s a place for people in transit, people meeting people, people with suitcases looking to eat fast, while frequently looking at the clock. It’s welcoming while at the same time it asks no questions. You can eat alone and not look sad.
We like the big long four sided bar, the restaurant is officially London’s longest restaurant at 200 feet, the classic tables, the eternal twilight, (it’s a windowless arch after all), sexy booths and the sight of a simple £9 set lunch menu, but we are here to eat oysters, the current deal of the Pleasure Garden Platter two glasses of Perrier Jouet Champagne and a dozen freshly shucked Jersey Oysters served with shallot vinegar.
Jersey’s rock oysters come from some of the freshest water in Europe and these are very good examples. They’ve been opened with minimum spillage of the lovely clear, gently briny, seawater inside, a mark of someone not doing work experience in shucking but who knows his or her stuff.There are few shell fragments, though.
Lemon is provided, not in a muslin veil though, which is an affectation that’s actually useful, as well as some shallot vinegar. I like a teardrop of Tabasco on my oysters, so the waiter brings some in a bowl. No need for that really, that little red bottle comes dressed for dinner.
We add some sourdough to the table to try and stop us eating our oysters in a frenzy of greed like the Walrus. Good bread, properly chewy and the butter may have been French as it tasted rather fine.
So we sipped our champagne, which could have been a bit colder, and slipped down oysters until only the shells marked their passing. Each oyster had the right texture, easily freed from its anchor ready to be chucked in, given a few bites and swallowed. You get a sea salt shiver and and a soft, almost sweet taste, unlike say Colchester oysters which are sharper on the palate. Excellent stuff.
Getting decent oysters, outside of the more specialist outlets in London, is usually a bit of a lottery and given the prices in town not one to enter blindly. Counter have clearly sourced well and are treating the bivalves with love.
In fact, overall Counter has the right look and feel as well as, glancing at the menu, the right food to be a proper casual restaurant by a railway.