Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Northbank, St Paul's

You've probably never heard of Northbank. I say this with some confidence because I'd never heard of it, and as I spend most of my waking hours thinking about where to eat next and have the Hotdinners' "Recently Opened" list as my homepage, for somewhere to sneak under my radar for so long (it's been around since 2007) takes some doing. But even the most restaurant-spoddy of us (Zeren Wilson I'm thinking of you) have our blind spots, and I know for a fact there are a good number of good, solid places that are quietly getting on with the business of feeding people straightfowardly decent food without the distraction of having to appeal to the Instagram crowd, or even (ahem) fickle, trend-chasing bloggers.

But it's no good being a decent, mid-priced restaurant if you can't make the numbers work, and so Northbank have very wisely (and fortunately for me) invested in a bit of PR. And it's at their invite I set out one cold, rainy evening to this welcoming space on the Thames Path near the Millennium Bridge, to find out what all the lack of fuss is about.

The first thing I should say about Northbank is that their bar is knocking up some absolutely great cocktails, and has a nice comfortable place to drink them in (plus an outside terrace), so if nothing else it should probably feature on your list of places to pop in for a classy drink in the Blackfriars/St. Paul's area. Above is an Old Fashioned flavoured with cigar tobacco, one of the best twists I've enjoyed on this classic in many months. It's also £9, about half what you'll pay in some joints.

Northbank is (mainly) a seafood restaurant, and so the only sensible thing to start with is a great big tray of oysters - natives, as well, always a nice surprise to see. They were great, although I do prefer it when restaurants serve oysters on ice; there seems something risky about eating a room-temperature oyster although I'm sure there was nothing to worry about. The mignonette was nicely made, too.

Just to be contrary in a seafood restaurant, and on the advice of my waiter, I went for venison for a main course. It arrived rosy pink, with a faintly underpowered but still pleasant game jus, and some roast winter veg, and was in every way straightforwardly enjoyable.

Less successful was a bowl of mash, which had been over-whipped and was rather sticky and glue-y. It contained a good amount of butter, and the potatoes had a nice flavour, it was just a shame that the technique had let them down. Still, I did eat it.

Crab linguine was fantastic, though. A huge bowl of it (which you might hope for, for £22), and well made pasta that had a good bite without being too crunchy, this was a great vehicle for a generous proportion of fresh crab, with just enough chilli to create a gentle heat and a little dash of lime for acidity. There was also a lot of garlic, perhaps too much for some but I like garlic. 2019 truly was the Year of the Pasta restaurant, and it seems even places that don't have it as their main feature are upping their pasta game. It's good to see.

Desserts were a treacle tart, which was warm and bubbly and comforting, presented with some nice smooth ice cream...

...and a slightly-less-successful summer fruits and chocolate cake thing which could have done with a bit more sugar. However, the sorbet was lovely, so it was worth ordering it just for that really.

So, no eye-catching concepts, no explicitly 'grammable content, no fuss, no fanfare. But Northbank deserves your time and your money because it does what it does competently, quietly, and elegantly, and with views over the Thames. I hesitate to mention service on an invited review, but I'm sure such enthusiasm and efficiency can't just be magicked up when they know they're being reviewed, so I'm going to give them thumbs up for that too. In short, they're doing plenty right and not much wrong and that should be more than enough for most people. Even the fickle bloggers.


I was invited to Northbank and didn't see a bill.