Excellent food, a stylish bar and attentive service. With vistas of the Thames and bustling South Bank as well, what’s there not to like about Skylon?
Review by Rupert Watkins Photography by Andy Barnham
The Royal Festival Hall can divide opinion; for some a piece of 1950s brutalism, others a cultural epicentre. Located on London’s pulsating South Bank, regardless of one’s cultural or aesthetic views, one thing is does have is the stunning Skylon restaurant and bar. One large and airy room has high windows offering atmospheric views over the Thames; the small but elegant bar is centrally placed. Whilst it can at busy times get a little frenetic, the bar staff are courteous and know their drinks. Whilst waiting for our table to become free, my guest and I enjoyed a brace of perfectly mixed and much needed G’n’Ts.
The bar splits the room into two parts, the restaurant and the grill. Taking our seats in the restaurant at a window seat our table was bathed in the soft glow of a stunning summer sunset (probably one of the few things the excellent staff here are not able to control). Recently appointed executive chef Kim Woodward has put her stamp on a re-invigorated menu, “the quality of ingredients available across the UK and Europe is unrivalled” – this means British and French cheeses, foie gras, correctly aged beef and fresh fish.
A sure hand in the kitchen is clearly seen throughout an excellent meal. Beginning with hand dived Orkney scallop cerviche with pink grapefruit, radish cucumber and truffle, my guest found the flavours a perfect match, the slightly tart zing of the grapefruit picking up on the freshness of the scallops. My smoked salmon cannelloni with crème fraiche, salmon caviar and chervil was light, the crème fraiche not too rich and the faint aniseed tasting chervil offering a nice finish to the dish.
Accompanying this, we had paired glasses of a 2015 Pazo De Bruxas Torres. With 100 per cent Albaino grapes this was a fresh and light wine with just enough sweetness to stand up to my more pungent smoked salmon. Moving on an intermediate tasting course, we both were offered seared foie gras and Angus Cross beef fillet with pickled cherries, toasted hazelnuts, wild garlic and shallots. A small, rich and elegant intermediary, the beef melted in the mouth whilst the foie gras was earthy with pickled cherries offering a lighter touch to the dish. We had glasses of a bold Italian red, a 2015 Primotivo di Manduria from Pugia which offered the appropriate depth and blackberry notes to sit nicely alongside such rich food.
Moving back to fish, my guest moved onto roasted John Dory fillet with cauliflower, brown shrimps and beetroot. Beautifully presented, the fish was well cooked and light. My dish of poached sea trout with wild rice, toasted almonds and capers was equally delicious, the fish nutty and fresh. A side dish of spring cabbage and confit shallots provided a well sized and healthy accompaniment, the shallots busting with flavour. Accompanying my sea trout the glass of Marimar Estate “Acero” was crisp, elegant with just enough apricot notes to balance the nuttiness of the fish. My guest’s John Dory was paired by the restaurant’s excellent sommelier with a rosé. The 2014 Travel Rosé, Prieure de Montezargues offered more depth and body sitting alongside the white fish with berry and faint spicy hints.
By this stage, we were both feeling cheerfully content. With a summer sunset pouring in the high windows and views of Aldwych and Somerset House, Skylon is rather well suited to wile away an elegant evening or lazy Sunday afternoon. I have heard excellent reports on their Sunday lunch offerings. However, desert seemed the needed – if indulgent – final treat. Sharing a beautifully constructed dish of Gariguette strawberries (an old French variety) with elderflower meringue, rose jelly and strawberry sorbet, the sorbet proved a needed palette cleanser with the meringue merging with the sweet strawberries. We were offered a glass of Cotteaux du Layon Domaine de Forges 2014; a lighter and fresher desert wine than perhaps your traditional Sauternes, its lighter edge made it the perfect drink with the fruit.
The new team at Skylon has certainly hit the ground running. Both the kitchen staff under Kim and the front of house under Ludovic Solmi are attentive and well-organised. With good a la carte and enticing tasting menus being offered, the food and views make Skylon’s restaurant a rather special experience. However, whether in need of a relaxed lighter meal or just a couple of cocktails at the stylish bar, head to the South Bank.
Enquiries: Skylon, Royal Festival hall, London SE1 8XX / 0207 6547800 / www.skylon-restaurant.co.uk/