What? Formerly the princely fiefdom of Ken Livingstone, the grand County Hall building was the epicentre of the battle between left and right through the 1970s and 80s. With its cannon raked on the Houses of Parliament opposite, Livingstone was a thorn in the side of the Tory government until Margaret Thatcher dissolved the Greater London Council in 1986. Whereupon the huge building, with its memorable colonnade and oak panelled rooms, fell dormant. Since then it’s gradually filled up, with the London Aquarium, the Millennium Wheel folks, two hotels and various restaurants, and so it’s with just a pinch of irony that a former hotbed of the militant left should now house a luxury bar and restaurant in the form of Gillray’s Steakhouse & Bar, within the Marriot County Hall.
New? Although named after eighteenth century caricaturist, James Gillray, Gillray’s opened in just 2012. You wouldn’t guess, though, as the feel inside is timeless, like it’s been here forever.
Where? You literally can’t miss it, on the Southbank, the ginormous Romanesque palace sort of opposite Parliament. You may, however, struggle to get inside as the labyrinthine layout of one of London’s biggest buildings can be tricky to navigate. Enter from the large entrance opposite St Thomas’s hospital and just sort of hope you find it.
The Look: But if you do manage to discover it, the result is impressive. The bar is sumptuous and grand, with high backed leather sofas and views directly across the river to Parliament. In fact you’re on the same level as Jeremy’s parliamentary office, so you can wave across the Thames. Though this probably isn’t desperately appropriate given the surroundings, with its oak panelled walls, liveried waiters wafting round flutes of Champagne and a menu including venison haunch and an £80 bull’s head. Hardly beer and sandwiches.
On the Menu: Before you go in they should ask you ‘Do you like meat? If not, then one of these gentlemen will swiftly but firmly escort you from the premises’. The menu is a smorgasbord of cow product, with the odd flash of fish, chicken or other four legged friends.
What We Ate: After an aperitif of Yorkshire pudding with cheddar cheese, creme fresh and horseradish sauce I started by plunging into the H Forman & Son Whiskey Cured Salmon. Delicious, served with grain mustard and a celeriac slaw. The salmon was a warning flag that this isn’t one of those tiny-delicate-dishes type meals, instead I wondered exactly how many shoals of salmon had gone into this? Polishing it off with a ‘yesssss’ of achievement I glanced up to see a vision of death; my friend, sat opposite and finishing off his pan fried scallops, with entirely black teeth like some backstreet hag from a Victorian melodrama. Moments before phoning the emergency dental unit we suddenly realised it was caused by the squid ink pearl barley.
If you’re ever wondering exactly how steak should be cooked then head to Gillray’s. My sirloin was brilliant, taken with bearnaise sauce and medium rare it was perfectly tender, the triple cooked chips almost didn’t get a look in. My friend opted for the T-Bone steak which, again, was sublimely cooked and big enough to have come from a triceratops, again with triple cooked chips.
Chips, triple cooked or otherwise, require ketchup and mayonnaise. Now I’m not a political sort, and I don’t suspect this will necessarily end in a Fathers For Justice style series of protests, though I can’t be sure, but can we please start serving reasonable portions of condiments? It’s not a Gillray’s thing, it’s everywhere. A Tiptree bottle the size of a thimble does not cut it. Thinking of calling it Fill Up Condiments/Ketchup, but not so sure about the acronym.
Pudding was great, though. Head straight for the sharing treats and get the chocolate mess. Strata’d layers of chocolate, like a Time Team dig, reveal different layers of delights, including mousse, salted caramel balls and chocolate crumble.
What We Drank: We washed down all the above with one or more (more) bottles of the house red, which is a very more-ish Granfort Merlot, a rich and ideal accompaniment for all the amazing meaty dishes on the menu.
Go With: The sort of people who block vegetarians on social media.
Final Word: The staff deserve praise for being attentive and extremely knowledgable. I was very briefly a waiter, a tenure which came to as abrupt an end as the bowl of tomato soup I accidentally spilled down the back of a patron’s neck, so I am in awe of waiters who really know their shizz, and ours really did. Perhaps he was so attentive because the restaurant was three quarters empty (it was, to be fair, a Monday), but get the impression this level of service is just standard. Combined with excellent surroundings and, most importantly, an excellent selection of awesome cuts and dishes put this on my ‘must come back when I’m off duty’ list.
Gillray’s Steakhouse & Bar: London Marriott Hotel County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, Waterloo, SE1 7PB