Skylon in the Royal Festival Hall have welcomed Tom Cook to their kitchen. Despite his surname instilling a strong sense of confidence, Cook has proved himself at Le Pont de la Tour and Le Gavroche to name but a few so when I was invited down a few weeks into his new job I was excited to see (but mainly taste) how much he has settled in.
Thankfully, once inside the ugly concrete box that is the Royal Festival Hall, floor to ceiling windows mean Embankment is the view you get, and it’s not a bad one. Sitting in the fine dining section of the restaurant we received impeccable service throughout. Water was poured before the glass emptied and the bottle then placed, label forward, on a little slate coaster. This type of attention to detail shouldn’t be particularly remarkable but is now so often overlooked that I think it’s worth a mention.
Skylon definitely attracts an older crowd, whether they’d been enjoying cultural pursuits in Royal Festival Hall or whether the price range dictates this, I think it’s a combination of the two and regardless, the traditional style of service clearly appeals. We overheard one lady on her way out remarking ‘the food was very nice’ – high praise, underplayed like a true Brit.
Large silver trays ensure food is served at the same time, and with a concise explanation from the waiter and a “May I pour?” request to pour the accompanying sauce for you. We were told we’d ordered the first and third best starters; scallop ceviche and venison carpaccio (foie gras supposedly nabs the 2nd spot). Clearly prepared with great care, the chilli and lime flavours of the scallop were so fresh that they practically dissolved in my mouth. Intriguing deep fried oysters were surprisingly good – not at all chewy – and the venison was so finely sliced we debated about whether this was done by man or machine.
Monkfish and Mallard maintained the high standards. Brought over on a silver tray the mallard with duck “May I pour?” jus was perfectly rare and beautifully presented. White space on the plates is a trademark at Skylon but mute any alarm bells; the portions are generous so you won’t go hungry. The monkfish was cooked two ways and whilst my guest loved it roasted, the Southern fried half was a little overpowering and slightly unneccessary. Creamy mash and Spring greens were safe choices for sides but perfectly delivered.
Head Sommelier Marco chose wine to pair with each dish we had, demonstrating a sound relationship between front and back of house. The highlight came at the end of the night. Accompanying a highly photogenic square plate dotted with chocolate fondant (amazing), caramelised apple mille-feulle and vanilla and mascarpone panna cotta with pansies and a cloud of spun sugar came two glasses of Coteau du Layon; 1985 Moulin Touchais and 2005 Chateau Pierre Bise. Both were delicious but the 1985 bottle was nuttier and less sweet so hit the spot alongside so many sweet puddings.
A simple request for a post-meal espresso escalated into an espresso of the martini variety, maybe a little much for a Wednesday night but hindsight is a wonderful thing. Skylon surpassed my expectations and, just in case you’re still wondering, Tom Cook is clearly right at home.