Tom Simmons, Tower Bridge

Last week I read that the tenants of four luxury flats on the Southbank had lost their case against the Tate Modern, whose public viewing platform had impinged upon their apparently inalienable right to have massive glass walls in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world without having to deal with nosy riff-raff peering in. (Read the article, the savage dressing down the plaintiffs get is quite delicious.)

I always wonder exactly who it is who lives in these shiny apartment buildings that have sprung up around the riverside, because prices run into the many millions and the glossy new developments always manage to avoid anything even resembling character or charm. Just down the river from the angry Tate people is One Tower Bridge, a huge and glassy beacon of expensive sterility, which has defied all expectations and actually become quite the hub of good eating. (Specifically, Gunpowder and The Coal Shed.)

If I recall correctly, Tom Simmons was one of the first tenants to take up residency on the ground floor of 1TB, and I think was probably dismissed by those who didn’t know much about the eponymous chef (including me) as a beige and overpriced restaurant geared towards the zillionaires who live above it. Also, I seem to recall that godawful prosecco bar opening at around the same time, so I think in my mind I may have subconsciously lumped it in with that. But after recently reading a little more about Simmons, specifically his love of his native Wales and affinity with French cooking, I quite fancied it. Also it’s quite close to my house, and I am always up for finding new nice restaurants that don’t require me to schlep into the West End at the weekend. (Truly, that is why people who don’t live in London hate London, because all they know is the horror of Covent Garden on a Saturday afternoon. And to them, I say ‘Fair enough’.)

So it was on my list for awhile, and when I saw Hot Dinners was doing a New Year promo with them I jumped on the deal like a rat on a Wotsit. And WHAT A STEAL IT WAS. Still feeling pretty pleased with myself. The food was top notch, though I’ll admit the ambience was a little strange. (Generally I find one can combat this by taking really fun friends and internally screaming I AM THE AMBIENCE until the strangeness goes away.) When we arrived for our reservation at 8pm, the ground floor was empty, though we could hear the unmistakable sound of people having a gay old time up on the mezzanine. Someone was being turned away for dinner as the restaurant was ‘fully booked’, which I thought was bizarre considering that at the time not a single table on the ground floor was occupied, and over the course of the next two hours maybe only half were full. Maybe they were just short-staffed that night, I don’t know.

BUT THE FOOD. I’m doing a tedious low-carb diet at the moment but nothing could keep me from trying the acid green whipped leek butter (I am a butter connoisseur these days, the weirder the better), which obviously required a piece of crusty sourdough bread as a vessel. Nor could I have eschewed the ‘Crispy Layered Potatoes’ (£5.00), which are made by pressing layer upon layer of wafer-thin potato together with garlic, butter, thyme and Parmesan, and then cutting the resulting slab into perfect oblongs of glorious, golden carbohydrate. God knows how much of a pain in the arse they must be to make but they could very well be some of the best chips in London.

I had the burrata with ‘heritage squash’ (£9.50) to start with, which I know is a bit boring, but the best thing about this low-carb lark is you pretty much have licence to eat as much cheese as you want. And honestly I can’t think of many things nicer than a big blob of silky cheese all to oneself, especially one that collapses into frilly white clouds at the slightest prod of a well-aimed fork.

We all had the Welsh spring lamb loin (£24.50) because Tom Simmons is Welsh and it seemed genuinely a bit rude not to. (Also, the little nods to Wales are everywhere and adorable, from the Welsh oak tables decorated with daffodils to that luscious leek butter.) It came with lamb belly which turned out to be in croquette form, and there really isn’t anything better than a surprise croquette, is there, especially when it’s a right chonky boy like this one. Densely packed with belly meat, which is always the lambiest, gamiest cut, it was probably my favourite part of my dinner, even though the loin was marvellously tender and the cavolo nero shiny and crisp. Lurking seductively beneath it all was a pool of parsley oil encircled with a generous spurt of sweet, nutty pureed artichoke, enough to prompt me to take another teeny morsel of bread to mop everything up with. Yes, I know mopping in a certain quite of restaurant is dreadfully uncouth but IMO there’s nothing more uncouth than leaving artichoke puree going begging, so sue me.

We’d already had quite a bit to drink at the pub because actually there’s quite a lot of time in between the end of work and 8pm, so we just had a carafe of the house white (£23/500ml), which was perfectly fine. Nobody fancied pudding because the food was all quite rich, and also because we’d filled up a bit before starters with some enormous pitted Gorpal olives (£3.50) and a round of the crispy pig head with piccalilli puree (£5.50 – more surprise croquettes!) I imagine the crispy pig head is the sort of thing that gets passed around at heavenly drinks soirees if there is indeed an afterlife, because they were absolutely titting delicious. I do wish people would find a more appetising word for ‘pig head’, though. It just makes me feel like I’m eating Brexit people.

Our bill came out at a bargainous £32/head including service and some fairly restrained drinks, but of course we did get 50% off food. Ordinarily you’d probably spend £50-60pp, which is reasonable considering the pedigree of the ingredients and the obvious skill being thrown around in the kitchen.

I’m a bit upset about how nice it all was, to be honest. Just makes me resent those rich bastards who get to live above it that bit more.

Tom Simmons, 2 Still Walk, London SE1 2RF 

Header image credit: Tom Simmons

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 East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.