Southbank Centre Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX www.skylon-restaurant.co.uk
Love at first bite? Tom heads to Skylon to see if a special tasting menu will woo
Upon hearing of the Festival of Love happening on the South Bank my initial reaction was to make a mental note to avoid the South Bank. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not heartless, but tend to find any event-based activity linked with this particular emotion is either a slush-fest of Love Actually-esque soppy cheese, or so overly political it makes me want to wear a bra and chant about gender equality before setting myself on fire.
Soon after, however, I was told that part of the festival was a tasting menu. A five course tasting menu with optional paired wines which had been created by a restaurant I had never visited, Skylon. With this new magnet of interest perhaps it was time to shake off my previous trepidations? Perhaps even if I my suspicions were true I’d be able to push through the crowds of Bridget Jones fans and find a great meal at the end of it?
Perhaps I’d end up on fire.
The most noticeable thing when entering Skylon through its understated door on the side of the Royal Festival Hall is the few steps it takes to reach the restaurant level. Perhaps I was overthinking it or being too literal but I expected a restaurant high up in the sky. Perhaps the name is a nod towards being able to see a decent London skyline. Perhaps I need to focus on more important things.
From the second we sat down it was clear we had become part of a well-managed, professional machine. Skylon is a D&D restaurant, who for those not aware own and operate more than 30 restaurants in the UK, France, America and Tokyo including schnitzel brick fest German Gymnasium and Quaglino‘s in Mayfair. These are not restaurants for informal, quant dinners but powerhouses of solid service and solid food.
The Festival of Love Tasting Menu starts with a’Southbank Love’ cocktail upon arrival which was surprisingly enjoyable. Vanilla vodka punched with flavour followed by the slightest heat of chilli.
The first course was a seabream carpaccio with cucumber, fennel, lime and chilli. Why it wasn’t called a ceviche I’m unsure (I’m not Peruvian enough to tell you) but I am sure it was a lovely, light and flavourful start to a meal on a warm August evening.
Skylon‘s Head Sommelier, an Italian named Marco, was on hand for wine pairing and I’m glad he was as he smashed it. The Greek white he served with the seabream was crisp, light and didn’t try to fight with the chilli and lime, and each paired wine from then on more than succeeded.
A ballontine of foie gras, fig and toasted brioche arrived next and possible stole the show from the course before. Rich, silky foie gras sat next to a quarter of a fig and a little slice of brioche. Simple and pleasing.
Both the kitchen team and front of house at Skylon appear to have mastered the pace for a tasting menu of this length. Throughout the entire meal, from sitting to stumbling out, time between dishes was just right. We never looked longingly towards the kitchen, or found our glasses empty.
Roasted stone bass had the firm, chunky texture its deep swimming promotes whilst a veg stock-based, slightly creamy sauce held it together with some artichoke, carrots and I believe carrot tops. Not a particularly exciting dish but everything was in place and enjoyable.
In fact, this theme for me continued throughout the final two dishes; a lovely rare piece of duck with pickled kohlrabi, pomegranate and a sticky sweet sauce was everything a classic duck dish should be and a dense dark chocolate and cherry mousse with cherry sorbet was good, although the sorbet was starting to relax a little too much like a dying snowman.
Often when searching for restaurants I hope to find hidden gems, perhaps a tiny operation with no card machine, or a railway arch that the other food-obsessed mid-twenty year olds haven’t found yet. And this is all well and good but the truth is these new, inventive dining experiences and pop ups, whilst doing much for the inventiveness and experimentation of our food culture in this city, can often struggle with both consistency and service standards.
Skylon‘s Festival of Love Tasting Menu will not shock. It won’t change your life or leave you and your guests speechless or confused. But from just one trip it is easy to tell that it will be consistently delivered by incredibly professional floor staff and taste really bloody good.
If kitchen residencies and food markets are the exciting, passionate but short lived relationships that often end too quickly then Skylon is the solid, sensible,’let’s set up a joint account’ partner that’s always there. I guess it all depends on what kind of relationship you’re looking for.
To get involved in the Festival of Love (which is actually really good), as I clearly started to in my last paragraph, head down to the South Bank from now until the end of August. Skylon‘s Festival of Love Tasting Menu will run throughout costing £59 for five courses and a further £49 for paired wines.