As with any building, and as any estate agent worth his clip-board will tell you, it’s all about location. Gillray’s must have one of the best, and it also sits in an iconic London landmark.
This imposing white Portland stone building looks across the River Thames to Westminster and the Houses of Parliament. The chimes of Big Ben count the passing hours, which you will spend in classic comfort at Gillray’s. The main six-storey building was designed by Ralph Knott in an Edwardian Baroque style and was opened in 1922 by King George V, with other construction continuing through the 1930s and not completed till the 1970s.
For more than 60 years County Hall served as the headquarters of local government for London. The Margaret Thatcher-led government abolished the Greater London Council in 1986 and County Hall lost its position as the HQ of London’s administration. Today it is partly occupied by London Marriott Hotel County Hall and Gillrays’ Steakhouse and Bar.
There is so much here that remains of the original architecture. Wood panelling and general classic opulence reflect the history of County Hall’s past – and then there is the striking presence of Gillray! You can be forgiven if the name doesn’t mean much although most will likely recognise the man’s caricatures. James Gillray was born in 1756 and his work reflects the style of those times. There was political unrest and both writers and artists used their talents to make political statements. Gillray regularly attended debates in the House of Commons and sketched the combatants, later using those works for his satirical cartoons.
One enters Gillray’s restaurant via the contemporary bar, but linger there for one of their outstanding cocktails. They make their own infused spirits here so the resulting cocktails are totally unique. The bar staff have a deft hand with such implements as blow-torches. There are over 100 gins and a wide selection of beers, wines and spirits, but those cocktails are memorable. This is a delightful spot with views of river and Parliament.
Classic charm and elegance
Gillray’s has been awarded two coveted AA Rosettes. They are presented for culinary excellence and it’s no surprise to find them here. This fine grill restaurant offers classic charm and elegance, and there is that magnificent view. But the diner will likely be here for a steak rather than a sight, and they are famed for them at Gillray’s.
Guests are offered very traditional Yorkshire Pudding with a cheese filling as a welcoming nibble. I have never thought of Yorkies as a possible canapé, but when they are this light and fluffy they make a fitting start to a meal in this very British location.
Forman’s “London Cure” Smoked Salmon was on the menu and it’s a must-try for any first-time visitor to Gillrays or to London. Harry Forman arrived in London’s East End from Russia at the beginning of the last century and he knew about curing salmon. He imported them in barrels of brine from the Baltic, but then he discovered the salmon from Scotland, and the rest is history – and a delicious one too.
I chose Goat’s cheese with watermelon salad. The cheese was perfectly mature and the watermelon presented as a delicate carpaccio of impossibly thin slices of pink fruit. Refreshing with a balancing tang from the goats cheese.
Moist and melting
My guest ordered Confit of Salmon with fennel, dill and beetroot as his starter and he pronounced it to be one of the best salmon dishes he has had in a long time. The flesh of this fish was moist and melting and full of flavour.
O’Shea’s Butchers supply the celebrated steaks to Gillray’s. They are in their eighth generation as butchers and Darragh O’Shea rears and butchers his own Aberdeen Angus cattle. My guest was tempted by the fillet and it didn’t disappoint. It’s all about quality here.
I had a Barnsley Chop as they are uncommon even in a city where lamb is so popular. A Barnsley chop is a Northern name for a double chop taken across the loin, giving two portions of meat. It is sometimes referred to as a saddle chop. This is a dish which displays all the juicy characteristics of this flavourful meat. I had mine with just a pat of garlic butter and some lightly steamed pink fir apple potatoes as a side dish.
Jam and frangipane
Bakewell Tart was our dessert to finish such a fine and very British meal. It’s a tart which evokes memories of Sunday teatime in the long-past days before the sweet foams of molecular gastronomy. This is comfort food. The classic Bakewell Tart consists of a shortcrust pastry, jam and frangipane and comes from the town of Bakewell in Derbyshire. This was a contemporary version and just as comforting as the original.
Gillray’s is well-respected in every regard. The cooking here is deft and the ingredients first-rate. There is polished yet unobtrusive service and a calming ambiance. We will return to sample new menus as seasons change.
Gillray’s new-look à la carte menu includes new starters such as Pan Fried Scallop with Pork Belly; Pea Purée and Bacon Crumble; Pan Fried Breast of Wood Pigeon. For mains they now offer a fabulous Home Cured Pastrami Sandwich on a brioche with pickle, dipping juices and triple-cooked chips, and half a Roasted Free Range Oxfordshire Chicken with game chips and Truffle Bread Sauce. Seasonal sides include a house summer salad and Summer Potage with braised celery, Jersey Royal potatoes and Heirloom potatoes.
Monday to Friday: 6.30am – 10.30pm
Saturday and Sunday: 7.00am – 10.30pm
The Bar is open until midnight daily
Gillray’s Steakhouse and Bar
London Marriott Hotel County Hall
Westminster Bridge Road
London SE1 7PB
Phone: 020 7902 8000
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018