Skylon was a futuristic, cigar shaped, insectile tower that stood as the symbol for the Festival of Britain in 1951. It stood on the Southbank for not much longer than a year before it was scrapped but there are many people in London who still do remember it, which we learned when watching a documentary on the Festival on the telly; I think this was shown about the time the Royal Festival Hall was reopened after its refurbishment in 2007. This was also when Skylon was reborn but this time, as the name of a new restaurant within the hall.
As we were heading to a concert at the RFH last Thursday (Berg’s Wozzeck – fabulous!), I wanted to have dinner somewhere closeby and having not tried Skylon before, I proposed that we head there for their pre-theatre menu. Skylon is divided into two areas: the restaurant and the more casual grill. We stuck with the grill, hoping that dishes would be turned out quicker and enticed by the slightly more affordable set menu. In the grill, it’s £19 for two courses and £22.50 for three.
We shared a starter: Foie gras chicken liver parfait, tomato and apple chutney, toast poilane. This was quite delicious with the sweet-sour chutney working well with the rich, creamy parfait. The toast was excellent (I love pain Poilâne) but I wish there was at least another slice.
For Blai, the Salmon and smoked haddock fish cake, baby leaves, tartar sauce for a main course. This was a lovely, big, fat fishcake with lots of fish within; a nice example but still, it’s just a fishcake.
I chose the Confit leg of duck, warm puy lentils, red wine jus. The duck leg was a good size but wasn’t as tender as that amazing confit de canard I had in Paris. The puy lentils were a lovely accompaniment, cooked with a perfect bite but the red wine jus wasn’t so much a jus as a sticky, almost jammy reduction. A little more sauce would have been nice. So that’s both main courses that were just ordinary.
Luckily for us, desserts were more interesting; feeling rather greedy, we each opted to have one. My Verbena poached peach melba, yoghurt sponge, vanilla ice cream came in a tall glass with crunchy fried antennae. OK, they weren’t really antennae but simply fried batter and heck, I love anything fried and crunchy. I swooned over the soft, moussey texture of the chunks of yoghurt sponge but couldn’t taste any verbena within the peach. Well, the raspberry puree did overpower most of it…the dessert could have used a little less. Still, I scoffed the whole thing rather happily.
Blai’s Lemon curd tart, cinnamon sable, yoghurt ice cream was certainly very pretty. However, he felt there wasn’t a good curd to base ratio – the base was just too thick and almost a challenge to chew. The cinnamon was also a bit too strong, overwhelming the lemon curd.
A huge downside of Skylon is the lack of light in the restaurant when the sun goes down. There’s a huge and dim main chandelier-like light and candles on each table and that seems to be about it. Most of the light came from the floor to ceiling windows facing the Southbank and they do provide a gorgeous view of the crowds and river. But towards the end of our desserts, I was struggling to differentiate between the peaches and cake. I don’t like eating in the dark! Service too was hit or miss – when anyone did serve us, it was all very pleasant. However, trying to catch the eye of the waiters and waitresses was difficult. And there were many waiters who were standing around so I wonder what they were doing apart from ignoring us.
But would I go back? Well, if I’m short on time and need a quick meal before a concert, then yes, perhaps – the location is what it’s got going for it. That said, there’s a Canteen a couple floors below and the portions are larger there for the same price or less (and that’s a la carte, not a set menu) and the quality of the main courses is at least the same as that in the Grill. £19 for two courses isn’t cheap for the quality of food that we got; I’m curious as to how the Restaurant compares.
London SE1 8XX