Saturday#2 – Skylon
Skylon won the Best Design Award at the 2007 Time Out Eating & Drinking Awards. No surprise as it is utterly gorgeous, everything works from its integration into the Royal Festival Hall itself, down to the brilliant attention taken with the crockery and cutlery. If the food didn’t quite match the setting then there can still be few nicer places to sit and watch the Southbank, even when the sky is grey and the river muddy. Especially with a kir royale in your hand.
Lunch started with a thimble of tomato soup, although I’m probably not allowed to call it soup, am I? This seems to be de rigueur these days because, although I forgot to mention it, the same happened at Vanila Black. Skylon won with regards to both the soup and the glasswear. Plus it was served from a flask. Having allowed them their fun, I started with heart of globe artichoke with antibes salad, extra fine french beans, nicoise olives, confit tomatoes and barrel aged feta which was a decent enough salad but didn’t fully integrate the boldness vinegariness of the artichoke. Whilst I has eating this I noticed a flask of mushroom velouté being borne to other table. They do like their flasks. N managed to order a dish that contained had most of her favourite ingredients on one plate: pan fried fillet of red mullet, crisp fennel with shaved mature pecorino, bouillabaisse vinaigrette. The combinations of flavours – not immediately obvious pairings – worked as well in the mouth and these the delicate arrangement, set off with some unmentioned spots of vivid saffron butter, worked on the plate.
Whilst we were eating these starters the restaurant started to fill up until, by the time we left, it was packed. The service never dipped; unfortunately, with the mains, the quality of the food did. My poached ox cheeks were a beautiful colour and texture but lacking in any depth of flavour. Out came a flask again, this time to pour over a beef consomme which added little to the plate apart from meaning that there was no dry space to seat the almost ludicrously decadent truffle pomme puree. Instead a snooze-inducing quantity sat to one side in a small saucepan. Elsewhere I would probably have loved this but together it made for heavy, unbalanced meal. The only flavours which stood out were the wonderful pot au feu vegetables but when the veg is the best bit of the meal something has gone wrong. N’s ballotine of hake had a lovely graduation of colour as it moved from melty to crispy and, despite only minimal seasoning, this was all that was needed to bring out its flavour. Alas, this was served with a white bean stew that was less a stew and more a flavourless clump of what looked unappetisingly like baked beans and three pieces of broccoli, the stalks of which were inedible and the heads drenched in butter. It was a plate lacking any of the subtlety and care of the starter, except in the cooking of the fish. A missed opportunity.
Luckily desserts saved the meal. I’m not really one for table cooking, it seems like excessive ostentation and faff, but crêpes Suzette deserve it. Due to my position I didn’t get to witness their creation, only see the light in N’s eyes and feel the heat of the Grand Marnier on the back of my neck. N, who had always wanted to try the dish, was entranced by the ritual and eat the crêpes with a huge smile on her face in total silence, apart from one small, barely audible “nom” of pure contentment. For me it was roast fig stuffed with butterscotch ice cream, berry compote, black olive tuile. Frankly you could have jettisoned the compote, the tuile, the unadvertised biscuit the fig sat on and the fussy foams and emulsions that dotted the plate because the fig on its own was everything I could have possibly wanted. I very nearly ordered another.
Despite telling me I was strictly limited to two hours when I made the booking, the excellent if slightly over-specialised staff had no desire to rush us so we continued to admire the now much busier view over coffee. Although I don’t actually drink coffee. A place like Skylon is never going to be competitively priced but I did wince a little at £3.60 for a “herbal infusion” AKA a mint tea that could have stood rather more infusing. If you want to see how mint tea should be served, go to Ottolenghi. However, since it was served with unannounced petit fours it is hard to complain too much (despite the inherent contradiction of sipping mint tea whilst dropping nougat into your gob).
Forty two pounds a head, excluding service, of which the three course set menu was twenty seven fifty. The majority of this was paid for by Third Row Fandom as a wedding gift. Cheers! They had also previously stumped up for a rather better meal in the rather more anonymous Almeida.