Northbank is a restaurant that I have frequented in the past and, although excellent, it was on the more expensive side of things. Hence, when I came across an Opentable offer for 50% off food, I jumped at the chance of a more purse-friendly revisit!
As a really classy restaurant located on the riverbank with a lovely view of London Bridge, it seemed the perfect choice for an upcoming double date.
Michael and I, his old school friend and girlfriend, popped along last Friday evening.
Service: Michael and I arrived just a little past 8 to find our dates for the evening already settled in in the welcoming bar with plush leather seating and red and slate decor. Since we were already a little late we opted to head straight for the table. A greeter efficiently took our name and coats, and showed us the way. We were taken to a nice enough table, located at the outer circle of the dining area by the window, but I was really pining for a booth table as I find them so much more intimate and fun, plus the lighting was a million times better to get some decent food shots (which is obviously the whole point of eating out, right?). I asked if we could switch and was politely told that, unfortunately, there were no booths available, much to my dismay! Oh well, worse things have happened. Plus the arrival of a carafe of iced tap water and warm bread & butter swiftly distracted us; we wasted no time getting stuck in whilst we discussed the many, many inviting options on the menu.
As we were just finishing smacking the taste of delicious, creamy, proper English butter from our lips, the manager came over to inform us that a party of 4 dining in one of the booths had just asked for the bill, and we were welcome to move once they had left, if we so pleased. I thought this was very courteous and accommodating of them, since we had already made a mess of our tablecloth and the number of booths is rather limited, so we were very grateful for the offer. A scurry of waiters suddenly appeared to help us move our numerous glasses and belongings, and within seconds we were warming our bottoms on the new seats rather comfortably.
Throughout our meal the service was attentive without being overbearing, with water and wine promptly refilled, and the time in between courses just right. I honestly cannot fault the service; it was bang on.
Ambience: The restaurant is very smart and romantic; the perfect venue to dine with friends, loved ones or clients. It suits every occasion, in my opinion. The white tablecloths, brown & green leather chairs, and printed wallpaper give the perfect air of old-English sophistication, whilst the large plants and spotlight chandeliers give a modern uplift. The candles placed on every table were also a big hit with me!
The view, of course, is stunning, and the floor-to-ceiling glass windows allow for the perfect people-watching or star-gazing opportunities, depending on the time of day you visit. I personally love the sight of twinkling London lights at night. There is something rather magical about it for me, and it always makes me feel at home in some odd, but lovely, way.
The layout of the dining area enables parties of all sizes to have a private meal with a comfortable amount of breathing space around them, which is nice given the undoubtedly extortionate rents for the location. The only possible criticism that I could give in respect of the ambience is that the lighting by some of the tables does need to be improved; as a group of young 20-year-old’s I’d like to think that our eyesight is better than most of their guests, yet even we struggled to read the menus at the table we were first seated at:
I’m hands down a fan of dim lighting, so I’m not suggesting that they make the restaurant brighter, but spotlights focused directly on to the centre of the table would not go amiss, which is much more in line with what one receives in a booth:
Food: We really did go to town on the food front. I’m always one to make the most of a good deal, and I’m glad to say that my company for the evening was clearly singing from the same hymn sheet as me. Starting with the complimentary bread & butter, I must begin by saying that anything free is a bonus, for which I am grateful, but considering the quality of the food served by Northbank, I honestly do think it’s fair to say that they could step their bread up a notch. Yes, it was freshly baked and warm, but it was of a rather bizarre texture, more akin to a croissant than a roll, which is personally not what I favour to kick off the start of my savoury evening meal. The butter, however, was exquisite. And I think we can all agree that nothing beats truly tasty butter! So a very minor point from my side, but one that I think could easily be remedied to give a better first impression of what is to come.
We were all pleasantly surprised when an unexpected amouse bouche arrived – carrot and honey soup with fried, salted kale floating on top.
The soup was outstanding. That isn’t a word that I would believe could ever describe soup, but it truly was a great soup. It had a lovely, thick consistency, with a deep, sweet carrot flavour, that was balanced perfectly by the salty fried kale. Very delicious.
As for our individual orders of food, we were all in total agreement that the menu was unusually good. Rarely do I find myself wanting to order so many dishes from the options available for each course, so Northbank truly deserve a thumbs-up on that one. After much deliberation (and I mean that), we finally all chose the best of the bunch between us and, although it was a no-sharing zone, I would happily have traded my starter for either of the 2 other options chosen. I ended up going for the grilled Cornish gurnard with tempura rock oyster, seaweed cream and sea purslane (£8.50).
To be totally frank, it blew me away. It was the best dish I’ve eaten in a while, and for me to put savoury ahead of sweet is really saying something. The gurnard was incredibly succulent with a delightful crisp exterior, despite being skinless. Biting into the rock oyster was a food journey of its own, that started with the crunch of deliciously light but firm batter, which melted away to reveal its delicious delicate hidden treasure. The seaweed cream and sea purslane sauce was to die for, decadently creamy yet fresh, and complimented the juicy and flavoursome items of the sea beautifully. It really was perfection.
Michael and Gem had the roasted venison with parsnip puree, quince and walnut dressing (£10.50). The meat was cooked beautifully, rare & tender, with a melt-in-your-mouth quality, which I am told (and saw) went down a treat accompanied by the smooth parsnip puree, sharp & sweet cubes of quince and crunch of walnut. It certainly looked the part!
Freddie chose the braised ox cheek tortellini with morels and mushroom butter sauce (£9.50). Rich, creamy and full of flavour is how it was described to me. The tortellini was cooked al dente, with each piece containing a tender and strong-flavoured package of meat, which was married by the thick, delicious, buttery sauce and soft crunch of morels like a match made in heaven.
In short, none of us could fault our starters. Everyone was licking their plates clean and singing their respective dishes praises. There was absolutely nothing any of us would change, apart from perhaps a whole lot more of the same!
For mains, the boys and I opted for steak. Michael and I went for the rump (200g) (£22.00), which is, for us both, our second favourite cut of meat after fillet, but usually always one of the cheapest options within the realms of the world of steak, so works out a dream for us!
Freddie, on the other hand, went for the ribeye (250g) (£23.00). Our steaks were cooked exactly as ordered, so I can barely complain at the fact that mine was essentially raw and slightly cold in the middle, considering that I had requested “rare – very, very rare”.
Regardless, there was a delightful slight char on the outer surface of the steak and the quality of the meat was well-noted. (Not bad for £11.00, remember food is half price!). Freddie was very pleased with his ribeye too, with no chewiness or grit in sight, and the fat marbled through melted into the surrounding meat like butter. In other words, all round gold stars on the steak front.
The steaks were all served with a choice from only the most luxurious range of sauces; truffle; Béarnaise; peppercorn; and bone marrow (£2.00). I am a bit of a steak and Béarnaise devotee, but I would ideally have loved to try the truffle and bone marrow sauces too. The Béarnaise was good, not the best I’ve ever had, but certainly good. I found that it was lacking slightly in both richness and herbs. I personally could also have done with about 5 of those measly pots, but then I am a very saucy girl! Michael also had the Béarnaise, and was of a similar mind to myself, whilst Freddie had the peppercorn, which he said had the right texture and strength of peppery-ness.
Gem chose the chicken, smoked ham and quail egg pie (£18.00). We agreed that it was a generous portion and good value for money with regards to its usual pricing.
The pastry top was flakey and had the right depth, so I am told, whilst the filling was tasty, with a thick, creamy sauce encapsulating the plentiful, moist pieces of meat, but it was slightly too heavy for her liking. Nonetheless, she did find it most enjoyable. The small side of kale served with the pie was an appreciated accompaniement; one’s got to get those greens in!
We munched our way through the mains with a selection of the outrageously yummy-sounding sides (each £3.75); cauliflower & bone marrow gratin; savoy cabbage & bacon; sautéed broccoli with chilli and garlic; and twice cooked chips (and I could easily have ordered more from the delicious assortment!). Northbank definitely knows how to do sides. The cauliflower & bone marrow gratin was the highlight for me; the cauliflower still had a soft crunch and the oozing sea of cheese it bathed in was not at all overpowering (cheese lovers would certainly have found it too mild, but it was perfect for me). The grilled surface added a welcomed contrast in texture, although I must say that the flavour of bone marrow was sadly not at all noted, although I think it would be a pretty mean feat if it had shone through its surrounding ingredients.
The savoy cabbage & bacon was the second biggest hit for me, with crispy pieces of meaty bacon intertwined amongst crunchy, juicy pieces of well-seasoned cabbage. A little more bacon wouldn’t have been discouraged, however.
The sautéed broccoli with chilli and garlic was cooked al dente, as it should be, and was nice enough, although I would have liked a lot more chili and garlic in the dish.
The twice cooked chips were probably the biggest disappointment of the meal for me, which is a real shame as everyone loves chips, and I don’t think that they are particularly hard to get right! The chips hit the mark on having an excellently crunchy exterior, but should have been half the width to achieve the right fluffy-to-crisp ratio as, instead, they ended up being incredibly dense and more like an extra-crispy roast potato, rather than a lovely, light, dunk-able chip. It was borderline inappropriate to eat them with your fingers, they were that big! The portion size was right however, and I feel that this criticism could (and should) easily be remedied.
Our waitress also deserves a positive comment here for meeting my never-ending requests for ketchup promptly and politely, albeit to her mild astonishment & amusement!
All in all, a very highly-accomplished round of main courses. Although we were all full to the brim, there is never any saying no to pudding for me, particularly when there is chocolate involved. Thus, Michael and I ordered the dark chocolate fondant with peanut butter ice cream (£7.50) – why is this the first time that I have seen this combination on a menu?! Absolute bliss. The fondant was everything you want from a fondant; rich, firm & goo-ey, all wrapped into one stunning mouthful. As peanut butter lovers, the ice cream it was served with could not have been better, but for many (inferior folk) the combination would have been too rich. We, however, could not complain, and were transported to serious food heaven.
Gem chose the rhubarb & apple crumble with cinnamon ice cream (£6.50), which would have been my next choice, and I am assured tasted just as good as it looked. The ratio of fruit-to-crumble was apparently just right, with the perfectly stewed, slightly tart, rhubarb and sugary-crisp clusters of crumble providing a well-balanced bite. You can’t really go wrong with cinnamon ice cream and I am told that it tied up all of the flavours nicely.
Freddie, on the other hand, went for a dessert that I would never choose; the glazed lemon tart with raspberry sorbet (£6.50). A little too much health in that title for me, but I must admit it did look pretty good nonetheless. He said that the pastry was crisp, the lemon was the right balance of tangy and creamy, and the ratios were spot on, for him. The raspberry sorbet was strong in flavour, but not overpowering, and he found it to be very refreshing alongside the lemon tart.
In essence, we all licked our plates from every course clean; even the pie and chips disappeared into thin air, and there wasn’t a morsel of food left in sight, which is pretty much the biggest compliment you can give a chef when you’ve eaten that quantity of food. Despite all being in a ‘pop-the-top-button’ state, when we asked for the bill it was served with 4 delicious squares of warm brownie, which were impossible to resist. They were the perfect (delicious) gesture to end such an exquisite meal and superb service. Northbank, you outdid yourself!
Delicious food and good company also calls for fine wine, which we certainly had our fair fill of. We got through 3 bottles of the ‘Mon Roc, Carignan – Merlot (France), 2013′ (£18.00), which I must say had a great depth of flavour to accompany our hearty dishes.
Price: The total bill came to £175.92 including 12.5% service, for 4 lots of starters, mains & desserts; 5 sides; 3 sauces (so a grand total of £88.37 for the food with the 50% offer); 2 aperitifs – Prosecco (£9.00) and a pint of beer (£5.00); and 3 bottles of wine (£18.00 each). I’d call that daylight robbery, to be honest. That would be an outstanding price for the quantity of food and beverages we consumed at any restaurant, let alone one that serves as gorgeous food and views as Northbank does. Then again, it is, of course, worth bearing in mind that the bill would have come to £255.09 without the incredible 50% off food offer (£176.75 for the food instead of £88.37!), which is substantially steeper, but would still be worth the money, in my opinion. As a consequence, I have decided to include their usual prices in rating them, as I do not think it would be fair to distort the overall rating on temporary pricing (which still comes out pretty damn strong, nonetheless!)
I hope my review has encouraged you to check out Northbank for yourself; if I were you I’d be pretty snappy about it and get my jaws around that offer before it disappears!