There is something gloriously Wodehouse-esque about Gillray’s Steakhouse. This beautiful building harks back to what is almost certainly a rose-tinted time of flowing champagne, country houses and idle aristocrats wandering the strand with their gloves in their hand.
As you walk through the doors to the restaurant and into the gin bar that welcomes guests, you are immediately struck with the incredible view over the Thames, Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament. These heritage-soaked views, along with a beautifully ornate bar and the wood-paneled walls, may lead you to think that the door staff have made a horrible mistake in letting you in; that they will soon realise you’re not a member of the aristocracy and a firm hand will soon be on your shoulder asking you to leave, such is the splendour of the room. Let such thoughts be cast from your mind though. Not only are the staff extremely welcoming and friendly, luckily, what was once only accessible to a few is now open to all.
Despite the English thoroughbred feel that the whole place has, it is still nonetheless a steakhouse, a particularly American institution. This is comforting in many ways. As well as the steakhouse’s British chophouse heritage, the Americans take their meat seriously, and things can be learnt from the country that prides itself as the meat-eating capital of the world.
We were shown to our table by one of the many smiling staff on hand and sat down to a view overlooking the north bank of the Thames. I ordered the restaurant’s take on a Negroni, A Smoking Club, that manages to squeeze gin into it somehow and wolfed it down without shame. My companion had the The Jubilee, served in a beautiful metallic martini glass with an accompanying sprig of mint, which was delicious.
After ordering the food, our waiter brought over a small plate that featured a couple of Yorkshire puddings and a pot of horseradish. Odd you might think, this hors d’oeuvres. I certainly thought so. But as a Yorkshire-born, Norfolk-reared chap myself, this oven-raised pancake with a dollop of mustard-flavoured dip on the side, should not have raised the quizzical eyebrow. The pudding itself was as Yorkshire puddings should be – airy, slightly chewy and structurally sound, whilst the horseradish dip was sound of taste and dreamy of texture.
Next up, a disc of steak tartare and a trio of scallops, along with a couple of oysters each. There was a time when steak tartare was overwhelmed with the vinaigrette it’s served with, but thankfully this odd trend seems to have passed and the beef is allowed to stand proud on the dish, as it does at Gillray’s. The scallops were as excellent as scallops can be – smooth and slightly smokey and served with a gorgeous black pudding paste.
Then the main event, a t-bone steak to share along with a spatchcock chicken. As you would expect, the t-bone steak was colossal and happily shared between us. The chicken benefitted from a lovely honey and grain mustard glaze which really lifted the entire dish. The sides of dauphinoise, carrots and prawns were excellent accompaniments and could have been the main parts of a dish by themselves. All of this was eased down with an excellent Chianti Classico, too often overlooked in the canon of old world wines.
Now the guilty part, the desserts. I, ashamedly, cannot resist a sticky toffee pudding and so I have a bank of experience to draw upon when it comes to this particular pud. Gillray’s exceeds with a moist, sweet and slightly charred dome of brilliance. The very berry summer tart was perfect for the day and measured the right amount of tartness with the requisite sweetness needed for a harmonious plate. Both were excellent.
This may seem like a wearisomely traditional collection of parts that formed the whole of this evening, but when tradition is done at such a high standard, it is often unbeatable. It is this tradition along with an American respect of meat (with American portion sizes as well) that makes an evening here such a pleasant experience. To quote Wodehouse himself “Everything in life that’s any fun….is either immoral, illegal or fattening” and in my humble opinion, it’s far wiser to focus on the last one of these, so stroll down to Gillray’s and loosen the belt in preparation.
Gillray’s Steakhouse & Bar
County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, Entrance via Marriott Hotel or Queens Walk, London, SE1