Sometimes places surprise you. When my friend offered to buy me dinner I was excited. When she mentioned it was at a Marriott hotel, I was less so.
Now, I have nothing against that particular hotel chain. In fact, I’ve stayed with them on several trips to the US, and have always been impressed. But, as with all hotel restaurants, my expectations were immediately lowered. However, I have to admit that Gillray’s Steakhouse & Bar in the County Hall hotel proved an exception.
If you haven’t been to the County Hall before (and I hadn’t), it's worth dropping by to take in the history. County Hall was the headquarters of London County Council and later the Greater London Council (GLC) – as in ‘Red Ken’ Livingstone and his vehement anti-Thatcherism fame. Because it’s a listed building, Marriott have had to preserve its original 1920’s features.
Segueing to the restaurant itself (I’d be here all day if I was writing about the hotel), Gillray’s is located in the South Wing of the County Hall with views of the Thames, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and the London Eye. Given it’s in the wing, the restaurant is long and relatively narrow, but with its high ceilings, oak paneled walls framing large rectangle windows, and marble floor, it feels spacious yet surprisingly cozy. The restaurant derives its name from James Gillray, the famous English caricaturist, so reproductions of his characters appear on decorative panels, and the titles of some of his images are used as names for cocktails.
The dinner itself began with the delightful surprise of a Yorkshire pudding with gravy and horseradish source – rather than bread and dips. The Northerner is something of an expert when it comes to this particular dish, so the delight on her face said it all as to its quality. For starters, we went for pan-fried scallops with black pudding, and Devonshire crab cakes with mustard and dill. The former is a favourite combination of ours and it didn’t disappoint. The crab cakes were meaty and large, which we normally think is a good thing, until we saw the size of our mains.
Gilray’s specializes in steak, and it gives you the option of bone-in or bone-out. At the waiter’s recommendation, we opted for the fillet and porterhouse cuts on the bone. They were quite simply superb. Huge cuts of meat that were well-seasoned, and cooked melt-in-your-mouth medium-rare – something that is surprisingly rare (excuse the pun) in steak restaurants. With triple-cooked chips, bone marrow and some creamed spinach, it was a dish fit for kings. Or local politicians. For dessert we tried the trifle, a dish that I’ve eaten many times in a family setting and has never failed to disappoint. This trifle is the exception, with rich layered lashings of whipped cream, sponge and fruit, and the sherry added at your discretion through a hole in the centre.
Gillrays is one of those places that restauranteurs are talking about, and having visited there I can see why. It combines history, culture, magnificent views, and excellent British beef. It’s a very pleasant surprise.