Wednesday, 19 December 2012
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.
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.