So many of my reviews start with ‘Well, it was worth the long journey’ and stoically ‘It’s a bit off the beaten track’. This evening I had no need of such stoicism. Counter Vauxhall Arches is just by Vauxhall Station. That isn’t estate-agent speak for a bracing march away, not a healthy hike away but really just there. If one walks too fast then it’s probable one will miss the entrance.
It’s thought that the name Vauxhall takes its origin from the name of Falkes de Breauté, the head of King John’s mercenaries, who owned a large house in the area, which was referred to as Faulke’s Hall. The area only became generally known by this name when the celebrated Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens opened to the public in the 1740s.
Opened by the London and South Western Railway as “Vauxhall Bridge Station” on 11 July 1848 this main line extended from Nine Elms to Waterloo, which was called “Waterloo Bridge Station” at that time. Vauxhall is on a viaduct with eight platforms. Interestingly there was a connection with Russians even in those days! The Russian word for a central railway station is вокзал (vokzal), pronounced pretty much as “Vauxhall”. It has long been suggested that a Russian delegation visited the site to view the construction of the railway in 1840, and mistook the name of the station for the generic name for a station.
Counter Vauxhall Arches is unmistakably underneath the arches and it’s taken advantage of the ancient architecture that was never designed for such refined entertaining. These spots have, until recently, been the domain of panel beaters and light engineering but such prime locations are now viewed with a bit more imagination.
If this was a house in New Orleans it would be called a shotgun house. That doesn’t refer to the use of firearms in the restaurant but more an observation that if one shot a pistol at the front door it wouldn’t hit a wall till it exited at the back. Counter Vauxhall Arches must be one of the longest restaurants in London but it remains cosy due to its narrow floor plan.
The arches might be old but the architect has introduced contemporary fittings, fixtures and lighting. All those elements complement the restaurant giving it a welcoming and classy air which fits this location – which is definitely on the up and up with embassies expected to move to Vauxhall in the near future. Mirrors and grey booths reflect the past and the very vibrant present.
The menu is eclectic and well-chosen. I know it’s a matter of personal taste but it ticked so many boxes for me. It’s ‘New York meets any number of European cities’ kind of bill-of-fare. The portion sizes are definitely giving a nod to the Big Apple, so come hungry.
Chicken and Tarragon Terrine served with a remarkable Apricot Chutney was my guest’s starter. This terrine is destined to become the signature dish here. Many such patés are made as afterthoughts but this hearty and beautifully presented plate is made of chunky meat divided by ribbons of red pepper and green leafy vegetables. Grilled bread was the garnish and it was all pronounced first class by this man who has a passion for just such preparations. Well worth trying.
Chili Blanco, Tortilla, with Avocado Salsa was my comforting starter. This was a substantial and rib-sticking bowl of white bean purée that had a chilli heat that grew rather than exploded. It’s a non-meat chilli that might not look appealing to the uninitiated but it truly was moreish and delicious.
Sea Trout, Courgettes and Samphire, served with Sauce Vierge, was my guest’s healthy main course although he added a plate of Lyonnaise Potatoes. The jewel-like veggies were a light foil to the richness of the trout and it was a sizable fish with moist flesh and crisp skin.
Caesar Salad with Lemon Chicken, Whitebait, and Parmesan Crisp was my ‘light’ main course. The presentation was spectacular with more chicken in chunky slices than I have seen in any one dish for a long while. The meat was glisteningly moist, the croutons were crunchy and the whitebait added seasoning. This truly is a dinner salad. Simple and perfect.
Mille Feuille, Vanilla and Rhubarb was my companion’s dessert. It was a home-made confection of sweet custard with tangy rhubarb and thin pastry wafers – just right for the season. The menu will change with those seasons and will offer daily specials to tempt the many regulars.
Counter Vauxhall Arches is attractive. Its food fits the location. It’s a casual restaurant that has already been noticed and it stands to make a mark on this corner of the metropolis.
Monday – Thursday: 07:00 – 00:30
Friday: 07:00 – 01:30
Saturday: 08:00 – 01:30
Sunday: 08:00 – 00:30
Counter Vauxhall Arches
South Lambeth Place
Phone: 020 3693 9600
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018