After a disastrous evening out at Fed By Water, a really shit vegan pizzeria, I was reluctant to go out and spend my money on any more animal-free food. Especially when I have just recently perfected my homemade spicy falafel burger (this but with double the spices and four times as much garlic, served in a bun with chilli-spiked garlicky guacamole and charred red peppers. And garlic mayo. I call it the Vampiresbane Burger.)
Then I received a press release for a Southbank steakhouse with a new vegan menu that sounded, in defiance of my recent experiences, not shit at all. Actually quite nice. So, despite Mike’s misgivings about eating squash amidst a sea of steaks, I took them up on their offer of a free lunch and we went down to County Hall to try it out.
The dining room is a smart, long room, flooded with natural light and on the receiving end of postcard-type views across the Thames to the Houses of Parliament, spoiled only slightly by the Elizabeth Tower’s top-to-toe cladding. On a Sunday afternoon there were a fair few diners, thus sidestepping that morgue-like ambience that tends to plague hotel restaurants. (This one, to be fair, is part of the very posh five-star Marriott County Hall, which makes it a different kettle of fish entirely from the mid-range hotel restaurants in which the wretched souls of hell are surely damned to each their lunch for all eternity.)
The vegan menu is thoughtful but short – just two options for each course – so we ordered everything between us. (If you’re veggie and not vegan, there are lots of other choices on the a la carte menu too.) Our starters could have been made by two completely different chefs. There was my zingy butternut squash and chilli salad, strewn with flowers and pieces of crunchy, punchy pumpkin seed ‘praline’, which was like peanut brittle made of birdseed. I liked it despite the sweetness of the pumpkin seeds and the single, superfluous tomato which didn’t add much except a pop of vibrant red to the tableau.
And then there were were Mike’s cauliflower fritters, which – let’s face it – wasn’t going to be winning any beauty contests.
But, as the old adage goes, don’t judge cauliflower by the fact that it looks like cauliflower. This stuff was lightly battered and served with a ‘Hollandaise’ sauce that through some kind of dark sorcery managed to taste better than the real thing, even though it tasted more like a Bearnaise than a Hollandaise.(Ingredients: oil, soya milk, taragon and truffle.)
In between courses I surreptitiously tried to ascertain whether the chair I was sat on was made of leather or not by pretending to tie my shoelace and sniffing it, on the basis that if you’re going to be a vegan for the afternoon you may as well do the thing properly. I gave up after getting some quizzical looks from the table next to ours, probably because I “retied my shoelace” three times in five minutes. And also probably because I was wearing slip-ons.
Things That Are Stuffed was the theme of the mains. The star of the show was Mike’s little dal-filled dome of deep, smoky aubergine, served with an orange and coriander salad that I will be absolutely be recreating at home.
I had baked red onions which had had their tops cut off and filled with pearl barley and kale stew. The surrounding veg, which had been micro-diced to within an inch of its life, looked like an artist’s impression of a well-used sink strainer, but the flavours were hearty and warming. I could have done though without the vegetable broth at the bottom of the dish, which was far too salty.
Predictably, pudding included a dark chocolate mousse, which was unoriginal but well-made and nicely presented. There was also an deconstructed apple crumble, which consisted on what I can only describe as pudding granola atop a smear of apple jam. It came off as a decadent breakfast dish rather than a dessert, and although it was a little sweet for me, I much preferred the sticky apple goo to the stewed fruit of the traditional dish.
Incredibly, the food did an incredible job of staving off FOMO from the nearby steaks, and we came home feeling full but buoyant. This was a nice change as we have a bad habit of accidentally overindulging in rich, meaty food and abandoning all plans of an after-dinner digestif in favour of returning to the sofa to sit in our pants.
Gillray’s vegan menu is £29 for three courses and includes a non-alcoholic cocktail (why they think vegans shun alcohol is a mystery to me, my sister drinks like a fish), but if you ask nicely they seem happy to booze it up for you at no additional cost. And, if you go with a non-vegger, there’s a meaty ‘Market Menu’ for the same price, so everyone’s happy.
Gillray’s Steakhouse and Bar, London County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, London, SE1 7PB
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in Islington and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.