The OXO Tower, a landmark of London's Southbank, has an interesting history. (Did you know, for instance, that the producers of OXO cubes were refused permission to display illuminated adverts for their product in the tower, so instead built in windows that 'coincidentally' formed an X and two Os?) Its Harvey Nichols-owned restaurant, along with a bar and brasserie, sits on the 8th floor of the building, where it has offered upmarket bistro food with lovely views of London's skyline for 15 years. I took my mum along, feeling that she would appreciate both the Harvey Nics-chic and the balmy walk along the Southbank.
This and our view from the restaurant was smudged somewhat by a grey and drizzly London evening, but once we tasted the food, we quickly forgot our disappointment. A varied menu (her delicious lobster tempura starter was a delightful contrast to my very British crab with elderflower and apple jelly) and waiters eager to chat through the food and wine warmed us up within minutes. The décor is slightly sterile Brit-kitsch: a largely white dining room is accented by a blue slatted, industrial-looking ceiling and, when we visited, a riot of OXO Tower bunting. I don't know if this was a hangover from this year's Jubilee celebrations, but it slightly undermined the luxury experience for me. The slightly naval feel is upped by waiters in smart navy uniforms, starched white tablecloths and so on.
Running a tight ship as they do, our food was quickly prepared and neatly arranged. As well as the crab and duck starters we ordered, we also sampled a little of the chef's cucumber-cool white gazpacho and a smoked duck salad with some very tasty five-spice popcorn. Main courses of duck breast and lamb cutlets sat around the £30 mark, and while we were spoilt with generous portions, I was disappointed to see duck I had requested to be a medium-rare pink appear very firmly in a 'well done' shade of brown. The accompanying artichokes and duck confit lasagne were a treat for the taste buds, however. Mum felt her lamb cutlets were a little too tough to contend with minus a steak knife, though again, the trimmings were more of a success. Another small sorrow was the minuscule smudges of purée and gravy here and there — with the amount of meat we were served, a little more sauce would have gone a long way. Desserts of rhubarb, elderflower and raspberry sorbets and a mango 'floating island' were tasty and satisfying, although we similarly lamented the size of the latter's coconut custard 'sea'. Our sommelier selected a lovely robust Vina Ardanza Rioja which went beautifully with the red meat and the fruity puddings.
The menu. It was great to see innovative touches like five spice popcorn, duck lasagne and mango with lamb.
The view. Even though we were somewhat set back from it inside, we stepped out onto the balcony to soak in the sights for a couple of minutes after our coffees and were not disappointed.
The not so good:
The food wasn't as perfectly cooked as I'd hoped and the prices suggested.
Slightly nervy staff — a waiter seemed to zoom to our table every time we tried to pick something up or casually looked about us.
Gravygate. If top restaurants are going to stick with this aesthetically pleasing swirl of sauce on plates, could they perhaps provide a small ramekin of it on the side?
An iconic and established choice for groups and special occasions, but some dishes could be improved to match the heady heights of its venue.
The OXO Tower Restaurant, Barge House Street, South Bank, London, SE1 9PH (+44 (0)20 7803 3888; harveynichols.com/oxo-tower-london)