Gillray’s Steakhouse

Gillray’s Steakhouse & Bar is the latest restaurant to throw its hat into the ring hoping to claim the title of ‘London’s Best Steakhouse’ and in my opinion, this County Hall darling could have the edge.  It’s bold, British and where else in the world can you tuck into a steak to the sound of the bong of the Big Ben bell?  And, what a setting, the River Thames, the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament.

The entrance to County Hall is grand, undeniably impressive and as a former seat of government.   King George V opened it in 1922.  Sympathetically restored, the architecture is a stunner and the interior doesn’t disappoint either.  Here you’ll find polished marble floors and gigantic bronze doors

I invite Keith who likes food as much as me and admits that he lives up to the old Irish meat and potato cliché – he’s a Doyle so is allowed.

We meet in the grand reception and the PR team direct us towards the bar.  We’re greeted by the bar manager Karina Elias who is charming and an incredibly welcoming host.

We begin with a cocktail, and gin is clearly the spirit of choice here.  Head bartender Carlos Santos has put together 39 English gins, 5 English vodkas and 10 English beers. Carlos talks me through the infusions and the gin infusions include Williams Chase and Fennel seed, No.3 with mandarin and cardamom, and Hendricks and English Breakfast tea.  For the vodka drinker, there’s a Plum and Rosemary vodka infusion which sounds gloriously wicked.

I had the Rhubarb Examiner – a fresh raspberry mash-up with vanilla syrup, shaken with Hayman’s dry gin and Chase rhubarb liqueur.  It’s topped off with a passion fruit foam and a purple pansy.  You sip through the foam, get your head knocked into a cocked hat, then if you’re still upright after the concentrated booze hit, you finish off enjoying the light, fruity smoothie.

Keith had the “red Snapper”, gin infused with tomato juice and horseradish, finished off with a good twist of ground pepper. I’m not a fan of tomato juice based drinks but I could drink this.

We took in the panoramic views as we sat on one of the bright yellow high-backed Chesterfield’s.

There was a guitar two-piece performing chart hits which were easy on the ear, but this is was laid on for the launch.  The restaurant and bar play easy listening background music.

We finish our drink and move into the dining room and I’m impressed by the space and decor.  We’re greeted by the restaurant manager Jonathan Prescott who seats us by the bar and I sit facing a rainy River Thames.

We’re served an amuse bouche almost immediately which was great as we were both starving.  Two massive Yorkshire puddings filled with Montgomery cheddar arrived, served with a dish of horseradish cream.  Yes, they were as delicious as they look and we debated the merits of a well-risen Yorkshire in between bites.

The panelled walls in the main dining room are hung with cartoons from famed 18th century caricaturist and namesake James Gillray.  There’s evidence of his work throughout Gillray’s, peppered on the menus and napkins and my favourite is The Plum Pudding in Danger’ – one of the most famous satirical prints of its day.  This is split between two panels, on one side, Prime Minister Pitt sits between a globe ‘plum pudding’ helping himself to a rather large slice of the ocean, while Napoleon carves a slice of continental Europe on the other.

Nine cuts of steak, all 35-day, dry-aged Herefordshire beef from the Duke of Devonshire’s Bolton Abbey estate in Yorkshire, and showcased by the one kg “Bull’s Head”.

The Executive Chef here is Gareth Bowen who began his career at Mirabelle.  With 17 years experience under his belt he’s more than qualified to deliver here and he’s ably supported by a bespoke team of ‘Steak Chefs’ – one of whom cooks every steak served on their Montague Grill.

The menu had plenty of choice and I was hard pushed to find something I didn’t or wouldn’t eat.  I began with scallops and these are perfectly cooked.  A smoked bacon wafer which started life as pork belly, was coiled, spring-like, and cut so very finely it sat on top of the dish and the texture and taste was divine.  The pea puree was succulent, sweet and designer green and worked perfectly with the smokey flavour of the bacon and the marshmallow-softness of the scallops.

Keith was going for the ‘Cocktail Years’ experience and opted for the Prawn Cocktail.  Good sauce to prawn ratio and if he had one complaint it was that there were too many prawns. There’s just no pleasing some people is there?  He loved the DIY sauce idea, no sloppy mayonnaise blanket draped prawns here, the option to put little or no ‘rose-marie’ sauce on your prawns is clearly the way forward.  Good crispy gem lettuce base and big boy prawns were found all the way to the base of the glass.

We were given a choice of the red and white wine and both were very good indeed.  Wickham Estates is an English wine and from Hampshire.  The labels helpfully tell you all you need to know.

For those of you who don’t eat, or fancy steak the choice is still plentiful.  South coast lemon sole, veal cutlet, roast spatch-cock chicken, lamb rump, smoked Gloucester Old Spot pork chop, mushroom and leek pie and a steak burger.

For those who want it, steaks are 35 day dry-aged and from Yorkshire Hereford cattle raised on the Duke of Devonshire’s Bolton and Abbey Estate.  Choose from bone-in or bone out and all steaks are acoompanied by a choice of sauce (Red Wine & Bone Marrow, Stilton, Steak Butter, Peppercorn, Tarragon Butter) and a selection of English mustards.  As if you’d have room there is an extras menu which features Bury black pudding (£4.00), baked bone marrow (£4.00), two Surrey duck eggs (£3.00) carpetbag oysters (£4.00) I can’t eat oysters but as the chef has worked at the Rainbow Rooms in New York I imagine steak gets oyster-stuffed.  The crab oscar is the last extra (£6.00) and again I assume it’s a take on the US surf and turf, white crab meat mixed with mayonnaise, sour cream and onion and placed on top of the steak.

I had the Ladies Cut fillet (£26.00) and loved it – a nice thick cut which was the perfect size for me.  I chose the tarragon sauce which was dense and full of flavour and the knife made easy work of it.

This restaurant was working overtime, they’re used to serving many covers but usually at different times.   About 75 guests sat down at roughly the same time and we thought the staff coped incredibly well and with excellent humour.

You can have potatoes 6 kinds of ways – yes – 6 kinds of ways.  We tried the truffle and parmesan chips (£3.00) although I couldn’t really discern the truffle or the parmesan.  The Witchill and apple wood bake was just naughty (£3.00) and the peas, broad beans and bacon (£4.00) was also well executed.

Keith had the 600g T-Bone (£42.00) and it was obvious when it arrived he’d not be finishing it.  His Jack Russell, ‘Tayto’ would be a very happy boy.

For dessert we opted for the Gillray’s Sherry Trifle which was the only error of the evening. The concept was nice, served in a large jam jar but the layers were simply too thick.  Once you’d broken through the cream top there was a thick jammy, blackcurrant layer and by the time you’d burrowed your way down to the sponge the sherry had evaporated.  The sponge squares were as dry as well a wrung sponge.  It could have been brilliant and I’d like to think that it usually is.  The recipe was on a small label attached to the jar both of which I left.  Shame.

The cheese choice was great, not one bad one on the board but the biscuits, whilst beautifully crafted were way too fancy in the flavour department and were fighting with the cheese for pole position.  There was Tor, Yorkshire Blue, Westcombe Cheddar, Birtwell Sheeps Milk Cheddar, Tunsworth from Somerset and Oxford Isis (our favourite) and came with spiced pear chutney, a smashed apple compote and quince jelly.  Unfortunately there were no plain crackers in the Hotel but we were offered toasted sourdough which worked a lot better and we were grateful and sorry for being a pair of cheese and cracker divas.

As we waddled to the bar for a nightcap the staff organised a box and glossy bag so that we could take the rest of Keith’s steak home.

Just when we thought the night could get no better we saw a live show of cocktail theatrics – no one was hurt in the making of that drink – and we also met the men behind Hayman’s gin.

I was a guest of Gillray’s but I will definitely go back with my purse.  It’s a great place to take friends and family and a super spot for drinks.

I leave you with a picture of an excited Tayto – just look at that tail.