Tag Archives: Southbank

On Location: Skylon (South Bank, London)

Having recently waxed lyrically about the neo-gothic splendour of St Pancras station, it’s a trip south of the Thames to the very 1950s Royal Festival Hall, and in particular, the bar at Skylon. As you might expect, there is a Modernist twist to the bar, and that retro feel of “the future as seen from many years ago”, which I am rather fond of.

First of all – the name. What is a skylon? The name is taken from a futuristic sculpture that used to grace the Southbank. It was installed as part of the Festival of Britain in 1951, and the logo and coasters recall what it looked like – a long cylinder, tapering in at either end. It was installed in a way that gave the impression that it floated effortlessly in mid-air.

While the original is long gone, the name now lives on in the bar. There has even been a campaign to get it re-built – so who knows, it may yet come to take its place again in skyline. It might look rather at home with the London Eye, the Gherkin and the Shard.

The “view of the future from the 1950s” theme runs through the decor – sleek seating banks and lounge chairs that have the vague air of a UFO about them. One of the things that I love about this place is that it benefits from being a large space with windows along one side – offering fantastic views across the river to some rather grand buildings, and the BT Tower hovering in the distance. All very serene by day, but at night, like in so much of London, the view really comes into its own. Sitting in the bar with a sophisticated drink, mellow lighting and the city by night – it’s great.

While Skylon is a good place for a drink, I was – unusually – there in the early afternoon, and in the mood for a cup of tea and little something sweet. As you can see below, the sleek “50s futuristic” look continues even down to the napkin holder and the bespoke chocolates. I loved these touches. They looked good in their brown-and-bronze colours, and I think this might finally have explained why so many of the more ghastly 50s and 60s buildings in London are brown – it probably looked rather nifty back in the day!

Tea arrived – a cup of Assam, which is my favourite, and in a decent china cup. It makes a difference. I like the strong flavour and intense colour, and yes – I spoil it all with a dash of milk. I’m British – it’s what we do!

However, tea was only half the story. I had anticipated that my “something sweet” would end up being some sort of standard fare – a chocolate brownie or a cupcake. But no. No, no, no. Skylon came into its own, as it had a rather intriguing item at the bottom of the menu – a selection of four mini-desserts. For a tenner. Frankly, it had to be done.

I’d gone for those, and when they arrived – well, see below, but wow! Proper dainty little dessert-like cakes. They looked absolutely beautiful – perfect and brightly coloured, the reds and yellows contrasting with the deep blue Japanese plate.

This little selection comprised a dark chocolate cake with dark chocolate cream, a raspberry and passion fruit cake, a pear, caramel and chocolate mousse  and a fruit cheesecake. A good selection, a nice balance of fruit and chocolate, and quite frankly – perfect to share between a few people if you’re after a rather informal but still swish express afternoon tea. Each was delicious in its own way, and it was nice to have quite a bit of variation in flavours and textures. Like a gastronomic mini-tour through the world of cake.

So…would I go back? For sure! I know this place for drinks, and it really does offer a unique view of the river and the site by night, making for a perfect place to meet up before going for dinner. However, I’m also pleased to have discovered that this place offers a simple alternative to a full-blown afternoon tea, so you can assuage the need for a little something sweet and a cuppa without going overboard. A real gem.

Skylon, Royal Festival Hall, London SE1 8XX. Tel: 020 7654 7800. Tube: Waterloo or Embankment.

LondonEats locations map here.

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On Location: The Library Lounge at County Hall

Psssst! Fancy going for afternoon tea with a great view?

I’m always on the lookout for somewhere to go for afternoon tea. Tea, finger sandwiches, cakes, scones and maybe a glass of something. That, and visitors love doing something so thoroughly British, and when there is a great view to boot, who could resist?

Recently I went to the Library Lounge at the Marriott County Hall. This is somewhere that offers fine views and some interesting history. The County Hall building is located on the south bank of the Thames, next to the London Eye and just across the river from Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. So the view is one of the great views in the world. Yes, in the world. It does not fail to excite – show it to anyone, and they know what they’re looking at straight off.

County Hall was the home of the former Greater London Council until the 1980s, when the then-government got rid of it. There were a series of spats, but one of the things that annoyed the government of the day was the propensity of the occupants in County Hall to drape banners with inconvenient political truths down the side of the building – which was not something the occupants of Parliament were keen to see across the Thames when looking out of their offices! You still see extracts of this history – the walls are dotted with old political cartoons based on the battles between the Government and the Greater London Council.

While the location is stunning, it can also make it easy to overlook – locals might avoid this part of the Southbank given that it gets busy, and visitors tend to walk along the riverbank and then turn  straight onto Westminster Bridge and head towards Big Ben. So, time to change that!

Since the 1980s, County Hall has since been redeveloped, and you are now able to wander in and enjoy afternoon tea in the former library. This is a truly lovely space, living up to its name with books lined up on heavy wooden shelves. I think this is what makes the atmosphere so nice – the shelves break up the space, so it feels really rather very private – you could imagine the politicians of days gone by in this place, gossiping, making plans and scheming!

You’ve got a number of options in the Library Lounge, and faced with the selection, we plumped for the champagne tea. It just had to be done. I was there just before Christmas, just having completed my gift shopping. It had been hard work, and heck, I felt I had earned it.

I had arrived around 3 o’clock, on a clear evening as the sun was beginning to set. And I have to admit that there is a real thrill sitting there with a glass of chilled fizz, looking out over the Thames towards Parliament, and seeing Big Ben light up against the twilight sky. As a (pretend) local, it’s actually such an unusual thing to do, so easy to overlook, but it’s also a simple pleasure really worth enjoying. It’s one of those sights that makes you remember how great our city is. I know, I keep going on about the view, but it was lovely!

When it came to the tea, there was the usual wide selection, but a little touch that I rather enjoyed was receiving a tray of samples to test.

You unscrew the sample jars, and can then take in the aroma of the teas on offer. There was a good combination of classic teas (Darjeeling, Lapsang Souchong and my own favourite, Assam) as well as herbal teas including rooibos with orange and cinnamon and a nice blackcurrant and lavender. Helpfully, the server was also able to offer some tips on which teas to take as well as sharing her own favourites.

As I was there just before Christmas, afternoon tea came with a festive twist. Following a section of finger sandwiches (a veggie selection was not an issue – hummus, cheese, avocado), we had Christmas cake, cranberry tartlets and tree-shaped cookies with edible pearls.

However, the highlight for me were the truly delicious scones. Light, fluffy and still warm. Yummy!

As you can see, I eat my scones the “Cornish way”. That is to say – split, spread with jam and then add the clotted cream. Apparently if you eat them with the clotted cream first and then the jam, that’s the “Devon way” – fine if you’re in Plymouth, but frowned upon if you’re in the Cornish town of Penzance.

So, would I go back? Definitely. The afternoon tea was lovely (as evidenced by the fact I managed to demolish three scones, in addition to the plate of finger sandwiches and all the cakes), and the view is breathtaking.

If you’re got a visitor to entertain, it works out a treat as you can take in the sights around Westminster, then nip in and enjoy the calm with an appropriate vista. My tip? Call to book, and check whether you are able to get a table near the window!

Library Lounge, London Marriott Hotel County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7PB. Tel: 020 7902 8000. Tube: Waterloo or Westminster.

LondonEats locations map here.

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On Location: Canteen (Southbank, London)

I met up with my good friend K and her adorable baby yesterday on the Southbank. After the culture, we went for a bite to eat. I had grand plans of heading into the West End or Shoreditch, but of course, these things are a little less easy with a pram. She’s actually great at getting around and doesn’t see London transport as an insurmountable obstacle with a baby in her arms, but still, it probably made sense to stay somewhere local.

This is how we ended up in Canteen. Our initial plan was to try and see if the Skylon cocktail bar served afternoon tea. For the record, it doesn’t, which is a shame as it has a great view over the river. At the back of the same building, there is a branch of Canteen , so with the heavens about to open, we popped in there.

Canteen prides itself on serving traditional British fare in a contemporary, relaxed atmosphere. The seating is a little like in a diner, although you are quite close to each other, so it is certainly intimate, but does not feel crushed.

What was pretty obvious from the menu is that there is little by way of vegetarian food. From memory, there was a vegetarian pie, and the barley dish I went for. I think that’s actually a pretty poor showing. I know that you can create a meal through the strategic ordering of side dishes, but that is something I feel is reserved for holidays in France, not going out for lunch in the centre of London. Limited choice aside, I went for barley with marjoram and roasted squash and fennel. Got to say, it was pretty good. It was well-salted, but they had just gotten it right. A nice combination of the slightly chewy barley and the soft squash. The fennel was just right – cooked, but with a little texture and plenty of light aniseed flavour. We had it with a portion of chips – perfectly good, but what had they done with the mayonnaise? One of my little habits from living in Belgium is that I quite like chips with mayo, but this stuff was gelatinous, greasy and a bit off-putting. In the interests of the greater good and love of food, I tried it. It tasted alright, but a bit oily. Then I did what I normally never do – I reached for the tomato sauce, and ate the rest of the chips with that. They need to sort out their mayo! K went for scrambled eggs (“The most yellow eggs I have ever seen”) which looked alright nad seemed to go down well. I’m not a fan of scrambled eggs, so can’t really offer my opinion.

After finishing the mains and a bit of a chat, we finished with tea and shared a cake. We took the cheesecake with hazelnut brittle. This I liked a lot. It was a baked cheesecake, which is often quite dense, but this was light, soft, fluffy and kept a good amount of tanginess from the cream cheese. The slice was massive and a but too much even for two to share, but it was a nice little treat to round off the meal. I’ve been to Canteen at Canary Wharf too, and found their carrot cake and their Victoria sponge to be good as well. Perhaps this is a sign that Canteen is somewhere to come for a quick cake and a cuppa?

Would I go back? Yes, given its location and the fact that there are a few things on the menu. There is not a huge amount of choice for vegetarians, so I am more inclines to come here if passing and hungry, rather than seeing it as a “must come” place for dinner.

Canteen Southbank, Royal Festival Hall, Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX. Tel: 0845 686 1122. Tube: Waterloo or Embankment.

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