Sunday, 20 January 2008

northbank restaurant, London - a review

northbank signage

So, a couple of near-rave reviews in the press, and a pretty nifty location. Frankly, that’s enough to get me interested in any new restaurant.

And so it was that, together with a couple of others, I pitched up with keen expectation on Saturday to the Northbank restaurant on – you guessed it – the North bank of the Thames. It really does have a prime spot to die for if you’re a restaurant owner. It’s right by the Millenium Bridge - just across the water from the Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe, and that sacred foodie mecca, Borough Market.

A good location, however, does not a great restaurant make. Could it live up to its setting and the hype? Weee-eeeelllll.... Here’s how it went – judge for yourself.

We arrived at 1.30pm, and ordered after about 10 minutes. So far, so good. My two fellow diners both opted for starters, whereas I (having already eyed up the desserts) chose to wait for my main course.

Some 45 minutes later, the starters arrived. Now, tell me if I’m being picky here – but I’m not altogether sure how a bowl of steamed mussels with cider and bacon and a plate of devilled kidneys take 45 minutes to cook. Were they worth the wait? Well, the mussels were pronounced to be ‘fine’, and the kidneys ‘nice, but very spicy’. A lukewarm start, then.

Our mains arrived a further half an hour later. That’s right. Another half an hour. So from arriving to getting my food, I waited an hour and a half. Wah! My blood sugar level had almost dropped off the edge of the scale, and my mood perhaps wasn’t the sunniest it’s ever been. Even a nice view over the river couldn’t distract me any longer from my howling hunger.

northbank view from inside

Still, my food – pan-fried sea bream with sauteed squid on a bed of braised fennel, with a side order of pommes purée – finally arrived just in time to save the day. The bream was cooked perfectly - crispy-skinned, moist, and very flavoursome. The fennel was softened and delicious. The squid, too, was fine (there's that word again), although appeared more as an afterthought than an integral part of the dish. The potatoes were just the right consistency and deliciously buttery – only modest concern for my waistline prevented me from licking the bowl clean.

northbank pan-fried brill on braised fennel

My companions’ dishes of roasted cod on lentils and lamb stew with dumplings respectively got the thumbs up, with the lamb getting an especially enthusiastic ‘very good’. Certainly the speed at which it disappeared seemed to testify to its success.

We had to wait for what felt like another age to order our puddings, although once we'd done so, they didn’t take too long in coming. We sampled two – a custard and date tart, and a sticky toffee pudding. Duty called, you see.

northbank custard and date tart

The tart was a qualified success – a layer of glazed yellow custard atop a bed of pulverised dates, all contained within a case of shortcrust pastry. The fillings ‘worked’, but the pastry less so. It tasted a bit tired, and certainly could have been shorter. It might arguably have been better as a pate sucrée. The toffee pudding was good, and pretty much as these things should be – rich, but not heavy, and rather more-ish.

Overall, then, good without being particularly stunning. The waiting undoubtedly took the shine off the experience, as did the service, which was rather nervy and lacked polish. The wines (from a very impressive list) passed the taste test with no problem, but were under-chilled.

Total bill, £102 for the three of us. That’s for 2 starters, 3 mains (+ 1 side of potatoes), 2 desserts, 2 bottles of water, 2 glasses of wine (we were, regrettably, all recovering from various ailments), and 2 coffees. Not bad for London, but it didn't exactly scream ‘great value’ at me.

Personally, I wouldn’t rush to go back – not at the weekend, anyway. It felt like we had a front of house B-team, and possibly a similar situation in the kitchen, too. Maybe the weekdays are different – I’d expect it to be filled with City types at lunchtimes, and for the service to be distinctly slicker and quicker. If it isn’t, I can't see Northbank surviving.

The food is good, and there’s no doubt that it’s competently cooked – but all of us agreed that, based on this visit at least, it lacked real ‘wow’. It certainly didn’t match the reviews in the press.

It is a great venue, though – so if you’re looking for somewhere by the river to pass the time over a glass of vino in the summer, this could well be the place. There’s a bar menu, too – well priced, with most dishes at the £6.50/£7.50 mark – so that might just be worth a try.

You never know, you might even see me there... or not.

Northbank on Urbanspoon

10 comments:

Annemarie said...

Mmm - interesting. Beautiful views and great shots of the food, but it does sound like it's a proceed-with-caution place despite the other reviews.

Greg said...

Well, the view is nice, but the most important thing is service for me. And, of course, great food.

Peter M said...

Greetings, my first time visit to your blog, quite nice!

The service does sound slow and they'd be smart to correct this, this is London.

As for the food in the photos, they look divine and it seems good cuisine is a live in well in London...no more boiled beef! lol

MARIA V said...

i love the view, i wish i could visit this restaurant only for that. as for the food, bream with squid? i'd have preferred it with more vegetables.

i'd love to see some more of your reviews with photos!

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Maria - I'll try to oblige! In the meantime, you can see another of my reviews (of Gordon Ramsay's Boxwood Cafe) over at my old blog, here http://thejoyofsmallthings.blogspot.com/2007/12/lunchtime-luxury.html

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