Things have gotten pretty big at Gillray’s since I last visited. It’s the chance of a reservation that got small. The room has undergone a large transformation with the furniture, the drinks and the food all changing. Before it was cosy sofas and cocktails that were served in glasses so big they could have been used as small vases. Now it’s all wood panelling and antique sofas. The bar boasts 31 types of gin, which could be said to be excessive. Or if you’re myself, someone’s idea of heaven. All of this has been done for a reason, to fit in with the new name given to the restaurant based at the County Hall hotel.
Gillray’s is named after James Gillray, one of the great satirists of the eighteenth century. He is up there with Hogarth in terms of the social commentators of the day. Think Chris Morris with a canvas. Most of his caricatures were directed at George III who is said to have looked at the offending sketches and exclaimed, ‘I don’t understand these caricatures’. Perhaps he was in one of his porphyria-induced spells of madness. Gillray’s pictures are displayed on the walls of the restaurant and needless to say, they’re big.
Another element of the restaurant that is on the upper end of the scale is the size of the steaks on offer. If you’re feeling adventurous or looking to feed yourself for a week, you can go for the 1kg Bull’s Head butterfly-cut double rib steak served with the bone in. This, like all of the steaks served, has been aged for 35 days, and sourced from English farms.
I started off with a mussel and clam broth which was rich and creamy. My companion could not be tempted into having something to start, so keen was she to put her mind to getting through her steak. The sight of her with cutlery in hand with a fixed look of concentration told me that she meant business. When the sirloin steak with a red wine and bone marrow sauce arrived, she took a minute to size it up, make a small nod before commencing its dismantling.
I, however, preferred to see my rib-eye with tarragon butter as a dish rather than a challenge. Cooked medium rare, the richness of the meat really came through and was complimented by the tarragon butter with its neatly concealed toughness.
As I came to end the steak, I looked up to my companion who was steeling herself for the final length of meat. After it had been put away, she leant back, put her hands on her belly and simply said, ‘No talking’. I asked how it was. She simply repeated, ‘No talking’.
After a period of twiddling my thumbs, she picked herself up and groggily went through the dessert menu. After deciding that she could manage nothing but ice cream, she went for a selection of salted caramel and rhubarb and custard. I plumped for the sherry trifle with its layered sponge fingers and red fruit soaked in sherry, covered with custard and topped with fresh whipped cream. While my companion gleefully went through her ice cream, it was now my turn to get my war face on. It was a hefty ask but well worth the trouble. It was like a good trifle should be, with you spooning mouthfuls into your face in between you helplessly muttering, ‘No more, no more’.
A visit to Gillray’s should come with a warning. It is not cheap. A three-course meal with wine will not leave you with much change out of £100 per person. But with views of the Thames, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament on offer, and with sumptuous food and deliriously good drinks, it is worth making it a special event.
London County Hall
Westminster Bridge Road
Tel: 020 7902 8000