What’s it like?
Located within the London Marriott Hotel County Hall on the capital’s South Bank, Gillray’s Steakhouse and Bar opened at the end of March, replacing The County Hall Restaurant which served British seasonal cuisine.
With management under American hotel group Marriott International, and the existing JW Steakhouse at the Grosvenor House hotel on Park Lane, guests would be forgiven for expecting a stateside steak experience, but Gillray’s says that it “makes no attempt to ape a New York style grill”.
To this end the hotel has gone for a “quintessentially English dining experience”, with interiors including Chesterfield sofas, Waterford chandeliers, and prints of works by 18th century political caricaturist James Gillray, from whom the restaurant takes its name.
The décor didn’t really grab me – the wood panelling gives the space a slightly faded look, and not enough has been made of the James Gillray link (a few prints on the walls and a couple of caricatures on the menus), but with views of the Thames, London Eye and Houses of Parliament I guess diners are more likely to be looking out of the windows.
Guests arrive first into the round-shaped bar area, where the drinks menu includes around 30 different types of English Gins, many of which have been incorporated into signature cocktails which take their names from Gillray’s works.
Myself and a guest tried The Morning After Marriage (Hayman’s gin enlivened with Assam tea tincture, shaken with Morgan’s Spiced, lime juice and sugar, served long over ice), and Fashionable Constraints (A combination of marmalade Chase vodka shaken with freshly squeezed lime juice, sugar, cranberry juice and soda water, served over ice). Both were light, fruity and delicious, although serving them with a garnish placed inside a plastic cone (as if someone had forgotten to take the wrapper off) was a little odd.
Bar snacks are available here including English crumpet and soft boiled egg, pigs in blankets, and Venison sausage rolls with HP sauce.
The food and service
We were escorted from the bar to the adjoining restaurant with bags / coats being taken. Instead of the normal bread and butter, large cheese-filled Yorkshire puddings with horseradish sauce were offered – a nice twist. I was a little concerned that filling myself with cheese and batter before a three-course steak meal might have been a mistake, but still finished mine anyway.
As you would expect the menu is steak-heavy, with a choice of ten different cuts of 35-day dry aged Yorkshire Hereford cattle, from the Duke of Devonshire’s Bolton Abbey Estate.
Bone-out options include a 200g fillet (£28), a 300g D-rump (£20), and, for smaller appetites, a 150g ‘ladies cut fillet’ (£26), while bone-in choices a 300g fillet (32), a 400g prime rib (£30) and a 600g T-bone (42). I opted for the 450g Porterhouse (£36), while my clearly ravenous guest chose the restaurant’s signature steak – the 1,000g ‘Bull’s Head’ – a rib eye butterflied to resemble the hefty animal on the plate, with an equally hefty price tag of £48.
A section of half a dozen Others included Billingsgate grilled fish, veal cutlet, roasted spatchcock, lamb rump and Gillray’s steak burger.
Service was quick, and we chose starters of Forman’s London cure smoked salmon (£12) and Brixham diver king scallops with smoked bacon and pea and mash (£12), both of which we agreed were fine, if unspectacular.
Extras are available including Bury black pudding and baked bone marrow (both £4), with potato choices at £3 and including truffle and parmesan chips (crispy but tasting little of either truffle or parmesan), and sides at £4 each.
My guest’s Bull’s Head arrived covering most of his plate, and with a dog tag proclaiming it as the 44th such cut served since the restaurant opened – no doubt he is now proudly wearing it around his neck as a badge of honour. We were offered a range of mustards including the coarse grain Old Hooky Beer Mustard, Arthur’s Peppercorn Mustard, and Old Rosie’s cider mustard, along with a slice of Shropshire Blue cheese to slowly melt on top of the steak.
We were both of the view that the steaks were good, but we’ve had better – in an original release by the restaurant it proclaimed it would be the “latest entrant to the contest to create ‘London’s Best Steakhouse’” – a bold claim.
Our waiter said that the previous restaurant in the space had been a “more formal affair”, and the atmosphere was certainly relaxed – on either side of us were a family with (impeccably behaved) children and a young couple. When we visited on a Tuesday evening at around 7.30pm, the restaurant was a little under half full.
Despite ploughing his way through 2.2lbs of steak my gluttonous guest had somehow found space for dessert, and opted for the signature sherry trifle (£9.50), which came in a screw top container in case the diner should wish to take some of it home with him (no chance there).
I tried a spoonful of the trifle (which also came with a recipe tag, and a full glass of sherry to pour into the dish, or sip alongside), and it was delicious. I was however happy with my choice of a selection of three ice creams and sorbets (£6) from an intriguing list including rhubarb and custard, and salted caramel. I tried the chocolate and ruby orange (very moreish), gin and tonic (a little odd) and elderflower and champagne (wonderfully fresh).
Other dessert choices include sticky toffee pudding, warm chocolate pudding, Bramley apple crumble and lemon meringue pie (all £7), and Gillray’s Cheese Table (£9) including the aforementioned Shropshire Blue, a Rosary Goat’s cheese, and the organic Ashdown Forester.
There is no specific private dining area at the restaurant. There is an extra section at the end of the restaurant which seats 30 people which could be used for a private event, although it cannot be fully divided off from the main restaurant.
Excellent cocktails and good steaks, Gillray’s will no doubt do well with well-heeled tourists due to its South Bank location, and its proximity to Waterloo rail terminus will also attract commuters. Whether it can compete with the capital’s top steakhouses though remains to be seen.
Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner, from 6.30am-10.30pm Monday to Friday, and from 7am-10.30pm Saturday and Sunday. The bar is open until midnight daily.
Gillray’s Restaurant and Bar, London Marriott Hotel County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7PB; tel + (0)207 902 8000; gillrays.com