Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Skylon, Southbank


Since the Pitt Cue van shut up shop for the winter, and ignoring the temporary Electrolux marketing campaign perched on top of the Festival Hall, there has been nowhere good to eat on the South Bank. "But what about Skylon?" I hear some of you say. OK, let me rephrase that... nope, sorry, there is still nowhere good to eat on the South Bank.

Oh, it's OK I guess, in a beige, Michelin-frotting, tourist-baiting kind of way. It's just that in a year when London's restaurants have, at all levels, proved themselves once and for all to be the envy of the world, Skylon feels tired and dull, a 90s throwback of obsequious service and soft furnishings that has survived, it seems, purely thanks to a nice (but by no means knockout) view of the Thames and a never-ending supply of sufficiently moneyed overseas visitors.

Perhaps the Grill area would have been less painful than the formal restaurant; it certainly would have been cheaper. But sadly last night this had already hit its quota and so, telling ourselves it was Christmas and pay-day and "Christ, it can't be that bad can it", we shuffled over to the fayn dayning (© Marina O'Loughlin) side of the room.

Call me spoiled, call me hopelessly ungrateful and out of touch, call me a whingeing little good-for-nothing who should stick to reviewing burgers (see the comments on blog posts passim for more suggestions in this vein) but every next word of the Skylon menu made me sigh a little harder. It's a list of dishes expertly designed by someone who knows exactly what London diners wanted fifteen years ago - Beetroot/ Salmon/ Crab/ Scallops for starters, Halibut/ Salmon/ Duck/ Chateaubriand for mains, Panacotta/ Chocolate fondant/ Crepes Suzetes[sic]/ Cheese (£7 supplement, 'natch) for desserts. And at £45 for three courses, it's pushing towards what you might expect to pay in (to pick a few), Racine, Medlar and Bistrot Bruno Loubet, all of whom have more style and panache in their coatroom tags than Skylon have in their entire offering.


"Canapés", an outside-catering standard mini quiche and some kind of duck paté on toast, arrived carelessly arranged and while my friend was in the loo. Then before we'd had a chance to try either of them, the starters, too, arrived - mine a well-timed and nicely seasoned portion of room-temperature quail accompanied by pellets of dry couscous and a tiny dollop of yoghurt. It needed a sauce, but it also needed to be a few degrees hotter and not looking like it had been hanging around for twenty minutes. My friend's crab was heavy on soily brown meat and as a result tasted cheap, like something out of a jar of Shipham's.


With the assumption that you couldn't cock up a chateaubriand too badly we'd ordered this to share, and in fact it wasn't bad - nicely medium-rare with a decent crust and seasoned well. The potato & ceps fondant was very rich but reasonably enjoyable in a sloppy, mushroomy kind of way and the Madeira jus showed someone in the kitchen knew what they were doing, but the beef wasn't of particularly high quality and we found ourselves relying too much on accompanying veg (salsify and shallots amongst others) to pep it up. There was a whacking £12 supplement for it, too.


Although the cheese trolley looked promising from a distance, ultimately the idea of getting the hell out of there proved more inciting than the chance Skylon may redeem themselves in the final hour, so we paid up - £78 a head with one glass of house champagne each and a bottle of one of the cheapest wines on the list. It was, like the Oxo tower just further down the river, a complete waste of time and money, an anachronistic bear-trap of a place hoovering up Southbank revellers while their guard is down after too many cups of Christmas Market Glühwein. Well, at least that was my mistake. But it won't be one I'll make again.

4/10

Spot the odd photo out - my own shots in the dark restaurant came out so universally badly that I thought a sneaky press shot might be OK just this once.

Skylon on Urbanspoon

14 comments:

Kavey said...

Twice I've made it all the way up to the restaurant reception, and twice I've changed my mind when faced with the couldn't-care-less attitude from the staff (not rude just impressively indifferent) and the rather uninspiring interior. Looks like I've saved myself a few wasted quid in the process. Goodo!

walshy said...

Friend of mine went there on a toptable lunch deal... ordered a glass of wine, let the waiter choose which one. Guess the cost of that single glass of reisling? ...

... £27. Out-frickin'-rageous.

Andy K said...

As always, if you want good food, you need to go where it's done with love - whether it's fayn 90s dining or dirty burgers. (Almost) anywhere (a) with a view, (b) turned into a chain by private equity or (c) run by Gordon doesn't fit the bill. As do many "concepts" that have succeeded overseas but which have been imported into London because it sounds like there are a load of rich people here...

Donald Edwards said...

I once did a trail shift at Skylon. It was 2008 and before I moved to London. They offered me a position as assistant Sommelier, I declined because even then I though it was pretty dull.

samantha c said...

I saw a programme at on tv about a famous hotel. for a cheese burger and chips cost like over 100 quid. omg and it was just that, there was nothing special about it and there was hardly any chips at all. I think that they really must take into consideration about real people who cannot afford this kind of thing for such a small amount of food.

Anonymous said...

Great review, certainly wont be eating at Skylon, even the name puts me off. Imagine what you could of had for that price.

FoodiesontheProwl said...

I've managed to steer clear for the 5 years that I've lived in the area and will continue to do so, especially after reading this.

And I agree, the Waterloo-area has very few decent dining options. You'd need to go to the London bridge area for that.

Pasta Bites said...

The view is great, and that's what makes this place, I fear. We had dinner a year ago at the brasserie, with toptable rewards, a d it was quite good then again it was sort of free. Did you check out much they charge for new years eve? Outrageous. We shall be having some decent food at canteen just around the corner. Happy Xmas!

Gin and Crumpets said...

Skylon has first dates and anniversary dinners written all over it. I have been in for a drink (perfectly nice cup of booze) and saw Gary Oldman get turned away because they were so busy. I do not know what this story adds to your review, but I tell it anyway.

Chris Pople said...

Gin and Crumpets: Gary Oldman had a very lucky escape that day.

jen725 said...

What about the wahaca experiment? I liked that...

Anonymous said...

Shame there is no actual discussion on the food, what might have gone wrong, what could be better and why

Kirsten Foster said...

Done the set lunch there with in-laws. Service obsequious and sometimes a bit sloppy but never bad. Always booked, always got window table. Food has always been tasty and comforting. But no, wouldn't pay ALC there.

Frankie West said...

I'm certainly glad I've read this, albeit an old review.

I've been dining at Southbank at Ping Pong, Festival Terrace,, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX now, the Chinese place and I could probably pay a third of what you paid on your trip there.

I'm certainly not put off by prices, don't get me wrong, but I'd need something pretty exceptional for me to eat there.