21 June 2016

Gillray's Steakhouse and Bar, London

I've been wining and dining and even spa-ing in the County Hall Marriott Hotel for more years than I would like to mention so I was really looking forward to a return visit, especilally as I was here to try out the new menu at Gillray's Steakhouse and Bar!  County Hall has a prime site next to the London Eye and across from the Houses of Parliament and fascinating history as the former home of the Greater London Council and its leader Ken Livingstone before it was abolished in 1983. 17 years later he become the first Mayor of London but a new City Hall was built by Tower Bridge so this magnificent building could be taken on by the Marriott group who luckily kept many of the original features such as the wood panelled corridors and bar. 

However, I was here for food and cocktails and so skipped up the less well know sneaky river front entrance and was soon above the madding crowds on this busy stretch of the Thames You feel miles away from the noise and the bustle below you as you enter the glamorous bar. 

London Eye and County Hall
River entrance to Gillray's

The gorgeous bar

The restaurant and its bar are named after the famous 18th century caricaturist James Gillray who was the master of the political cartoon, acknowledging the building's political history.  You can enjoy his prints along the walls as well as more contemporary cartoons from the era of Margaret Thatcher in the restrooms - well they are in the Ladies, I cannot speak for the gents!.  

We started our visit with a refreshing cocktail from the excellent list . They use home infused gin to create unique drinks and Gillray's are proud to part of the current gin revival, stocking a wide range of familiar and new gins, Sam Mitchell, the Head Bartender chose a strongly Gillray referenced cocktail for us called Drawing Out A Batch of New Kings after his famous cartoon. Our cocktail however was rum based, a fresh and easy to quaff mix of homemade bacardi carta blanca spiced rum, lime juice, orgeat syrup, passion fruit and mint leaves. 

How fresh does this look?

Moving through to the wonderfully open, light restaurant with more great views we settled down to test out their good looking menu. As there was a group of us, we were able to try out a range of starters from juicy scallps to the hearty terrine and the healthy deep green pea soup. My favourite was the watermelon with goat cheese and pistachio for its fresh, clean taste of the melon against the tart goat cheese.

                                                               The dining room 
Pea soup and goat curd

Goat cheese, watermelon and pistachio 

Quinoa and chicken salad with courgette
Scallops, apple, vanilla and dates

Chicken liver parfait, pear and gingerbread
Confit salmon, fennel, pollen, dill and beetroot

Old spot pork terrine and piccalilli 

Given a choice of main courses, it had to be rump steak and triple cooked chips and a wonderfully soft and generous sized steak appeared with Bearnaise sauce and portobello mushroom with heritage tomatoes.  No one stepped up to the 1 kilo Bull's Head steak as it seemed a challenge too far!  I asked for the cooking to be medium rare and it turned up just a fraction too rare for me so I asked if they could cook it just a little more and without any fuss, they whisked it away and returned very shortly with a new mushroom and the steak 's cooking perfectly adjusted. Excellent service.  

Jiuicy steak, sauce and mushroom 

Large, crispy chips 

Was there some space for dessert? Of course there was!  Luckily as we were a small group, we could, again, taste a range of options and here they are. My favourite by far was their unique take on a sherry trifle. The multilayered trifle arrives in a jar with an accompanying glass of sherry.  Using the long spoon you make a space down the side of the jar and 'just add sherry'.  It was very creamy and luxurious and got top marks for taste and presentation. 

Rather special chocolate bombe and raspberry sauce

Beautifully served sorbets

Gillray's sherry trifle 

Gillray's sherry trifle 

Although I was sorely tempted I could not return to the bar after lunch to taste more of their inventive cocktails and anyway,  I was rather full by then so I waddled off home!

If you want to read more about James Gillray here's a link.

Bye for now. 

Full disclosure: as is usual for these events, my food and beverages were paid for by Gillray's, however the views expressed are all my own. 

16 June 2016

The new Tate Modern opens in London

I've been watching the extension to the Tate Modern grow for the last 5 years, seeing the twisted pyramidal shape emerge as the exterior changed from a white cladding to a brick lattice which matches yet is different from the original Tate.  They are both part of an old power station site so in a nod to its origins the first Tate building is now called the Boiler House and the new Tate is the Switch House. 

Hailed as a gallery for the 21st century, a significant addition to London's cultural scene,   the Switch House brings us 10 storeys, a whopping 60% of new exhibition space and a focus on new interactive forms of art, more women artists and a wider representation of international artists.  

Tate Modern London
Viewed from the south 

Undoubtedly the building is the star, it's light, has wonderful shapes within it and outside, the materials are gorgeous wood and raw concrete and the panoramic views afforded from the top floor are among the best in London.   It sits happily alongside the Boiler House and looking across from one to the other when you are inside makes perfect sense. They have achieved a contrasting yet co-ordinated feel between the two buildings, helped no doubt by using the same architects, Herzog & de Meuron. 

Here are some views of the interior of the Switch House, showing the sweeping spaces and the effect of the lattice brickwork on the interior light and shadows. 

Glorious wooden floors and benches, smooth the the touch 

Entry to The Tanks
The area called 'The Tanks' which was opened up a couple of years ago, return to form the basement of the Switch House. Here you can find the floor plan, showing just how much extra space the Switch House brings to the Tate Modern. 

Looking across to the Boiler House gives you a new perspective along the enormous gaping space of the Turbine Hall:  You'll spot a new installation by Ai Wei Wei, a monumental sculpture of a tree made of dried tree parts from all over China. I saw it being assembled the week before like a massive 3-D jigsaw.

Up on the 10th floor is an external viewing platform around the outside of the building giving the chance to see 360 degree panoramas across the whole of London which few can match. 

What about the art? I'm more of a painting/sculpture art lover so some of the more abstract items left me unmoved. There are very few paintings and a lot of very new work but some familiar names and some intriguing pieces drew me in and I did find something to enjoy in most of the rooms. It feels new, contemporary, bold and, of course, challenging.  Here are just a few examples to give you an idea of what is on display:

Mark Bradford, yes a painting!

Marwan Rechmaoui - a map of Beirut in rubber 

A room dedicated to Louise Bourgeois

Yes, live macaws with a sign saying they are well looked after!

Lots of fun in a box of mirrors by Yayoi Kusama

Roni Horn's beautiful pink glass box

Bubbles frothing from David Medalla 

Maria Metz's aluminium piece 

There are restaurants, cafes and bars in the Switch House as well as existing Boiler House offerings so there is plenty to refresh you as you explore these 2 extraordinary buildings. 

For more information check out their website

Bye for now,