We indulge with steaks and stupendous views at Gillray’s in South Bank
Stroll along South Bank and look hard between the crowds of tourists for a tiny gated stairway. Follow this up, and you’ll reach an elegant, secluded courtyard which is elevated just above the South Bank and offers immense views of Westminster, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Sure, the latter is now covered in scaffolding as it’s flung into a period of restoration, but don’t let this put you off. Opposite this picturesque courtyard with equally gorgeous views is Gillray’s Restaurant – my dining destination for the night.
As you walk in, you’re met by a stunning open plan bar, charming staff and wood panelling on every surface which mirrors the very houses of Parliament across the water. Gillray’s was named after James Gillray, a famed caricaturist of the late eighteenth century. Named the father of the political cartoon, some of his satirical works adorn Gillray’s walls to reflect the political history of the County Hall. The menus themselves are almost caricatured of cuts of beef – a rather excellent detail.
As we sat down to begin our meal, I couldn’t help but think that this was a really special place to dine. It’s a real escape from the touristy action below – you’re immediately shut off from that part of the South Bank. You’re met by large single pane windows to make the views even more spectacular, and it’s uninterrupted. Secluded elegance – I like it immediately.
It’s understated. Quiet. Charming. Private. Elegant. Gillray’s is positioned as a steak restaurant, so when in Rome… we chose a selection of steaks. Most of the produce is sourced from within 150 miles from Kent and Essex.
The starters include the classic oysters, but also include a stunning steak tartare, scallops and a rather great Woodall’s charcuterie. The pate came served in a rustic basket which, though a bit OTT in comparison to the surrounding experience, was a really fantastic touch.
As for mains, it’s rather typical of my large eyes, small stomach (and apparently expanding belly) that we go for the king of the grill. The T-bones, fillets and prime ribs all looked excellent, but the real jewel in the menu was The Bull’s Head. Think double prime rib (served with marrow-in-bone) and paired with two sides and sauces. Larger steaks like this I often find need to be cooked to perfection and Gillray’s did not disappoint.
What I must say about the selection of The Bull’s Head is that, if considering value is your thing, this is a mighty dish and includes sides – so for £80 to share it’s great value with flavour worth dreaming about for days following the feast. We accompanied the steaks with the Dauphinoise (again sublime), the kale, chilli and garlic and an angelic broccoli salad. Who are we kidding – we also included triple cooked chips with blue cheese sauce and béarnaise.
The menu also offers more traditional London-British fare, including Billingsgate market fish, Spatchcock chicken and lamb cutlets – all of which reflect the British charm of this place. Plus, if you choose to dine on a Sunday or a Monday, you can actually bring your own wine for a small corkage fee. This, however was unnecessary, as the wines on the menu were actually delightful and the sommelier very attentive to our needs.
Gillray’s really did pleasantly surprise us, not least for a tremendous experience, but because it’s quite surprising how few people know about it. Its location, setting and atmosphere were all very special – and a refreshing change from any nearby touristy dining options.
This is a real gem and for friends or family seeking steak in a quietly quaint part of London, separate from the surrounding bustle, it’s one of the capital’s best kept secrets.
Make it happen
Where: London County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7PB