On London’s South Bank, in what we think of as Waterloo but what is in fact only a small sliver of this district, are an array of attractions. You can generally tell how touristic an area is by how many businesses use the place name in their own. With the London Eye, London Dungeon and London Aquarium nearby, you might have thought I’d end up in a steakhouse with a similar name.
But here, stretched along the river, sits the former headquarters of London County Council – County Hall. This enormous building is now home to a number of businesses including a five star Marriott hotel and, within it, Gillray’s Steakhouse & Bar.
Named after James Gillray, an 18th century political cartoonist, this restaurant takes influence both from its location and its namesake. Like the electro swing playing in the background, the decor in the bar is both traditional yet modern. A huge, contemporary chandelier hangs over the middle of this circular room, which leads into the restaurant.
If there’s one thing I like in interior decor, it’s wooden panelling. And my gosh was I in the right place. Not only this, but gold detailing and marble tables give the restaurant an even more sophisticated feel. With views of the Thames and across to the Houses of Parliament, it’s an enviable spot.
Featuring a cow in their logo, Gillray’s don’t shy away from where their food comes from. But why should they? Their 35-day-aged Aberdeen Angus beef is reared in Yorkshire and is specially selected on a number of different criteria. Fed a grass-based diet and butchered to the highest standards, this is where my starter – the steak tartare – got its impeccable taste. Light, delicate, and slightly sweet from the addition of confit egg yolk, this dish is as tasty as it is beautifully presented.
Across the table, my guest was tucking into the duck liver pate, served in an egg box along with redcurrant chutney and brioche soldiers. A delicious blend of sweet and savoury, this made for the perfect appetiser.
The bar serves more than 100 different gins so it seemed only fitting to order a gin cocktail – a Jubilee. This was comprised of gin infused with rhubarb and ginger jam, shaken with fresh lemon juice and mint then served in a stainless steel martini glass. Sweet and zesty, it hit the spot.
It was at this point that the mains – or should I say, main – arrived. One might argue that a true professional would sample as much as possible and certainly wouldn’t order a sharer. But we simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try the Bull’s Head: one kilo of double prime rib. Cooked medium rare and presented with its own dog tag bearing the name of the dish, the Bull’s Head made for quite a centrepiece.
The main came with sauces and sides so we opted for sauces of red wine and bearnaise, with sides of flat cap mushrooms and Lyburn dauphinoise potatoes. Having each chosen a knife from an arsenal of options, we tucked in. The steak was tender and flavoursome and the dauphinoise was especially delicious. After a quarter of a century of indifference to steak, my guest was converted.
To finish, I opted for a chocolate pot with shortbread. Across the table: sticky toffee pudding with Dorset clotted ice cream. Deliciously sweet in taste and suitably sensible in size, this was just what we needed. Rounded off with a Duet, a challengingly spicy cocktail combining chilli and notes of white chocolate, we concluded our evening.
One carafe, two cocktails, two starters, a sharing main, two desserts, one tea and mineral water came to around £200 ($260). Leaving the restaurant to hear Big Ben bong for the last time in four years, we were reminded that Gillray’s boasts an incredible location – as well as sumptuous food.