Skylon – Restaurant Review

Daniel John Lynch

Last week I took a friend of mine (Luc) to dinner at Skylon Restaurant on the Southbank. I’d heard quite a lot about this restaurant, most of it good, some not so good. It always seems to be busy, so it can’t be that bad I thought.

Set in the Royal Festival Hall, it’s in a great location and has pretty nice views. The problem I had though, was the setup of the venue and the way it was run. It just seemed to have too much fussiness about it all. I didn’t really enjoy my dining experience as much as I had hoped to.

I met Luc at Embankment station just before 7pm. It had started to rain a little, so we quickly headed across Jubilee Bridge towards the restaurant. Luckily we had made it before the heavens had opened (Luc was wearing his leopard print cashmere Prada shoes and did not do rain). We headed in through a large open door to the side of the building and ventured up a few sets of stairs. Once at the top, we then had to walk around a corridor into Skylon. As soon as we walked in, we then had to walk around the edges of the brasserie/bar area, past 2 service points and finally to the receptionist.

By this stage, we had both worked up an appetite and a thirst! It seems odd to me that they would station the reception team so far away from the main entrance. Surely you would want to greet your guests as soon as they walked in to the building. There are 3 entrances/exits in Skylon and 2 reception areas. Personally, I would keep one reception area by the entrances/exits in the main building and then put the other reception team by the top of the staircase that Luc and I had walked up.

We went up to the reception team and informed them of our arrival. The receptionist was well presented, welcoming and warm. She took our coats for us and asked if we would like to have a drink in the bar first. We had arrived 30 minutes early to do so, but the bar was packed. There was no room at the bar or around any of the tables, which is a great sign. The bar had quite a buzzing feel about it and was a nice relaxed area. The lights were dimly lit, so you could get a good view outside the vast windows. As we couldn’t get a seat, we decided to go straight to our table.

We were shown to our table, pretty much straight away, which was great seeing as we were early. We were presented our menu and wine list. I had booked the table with the Evening Standard promotion where you can dine in 22 D&D London restaurants for under £30. Part of this offer includes a complimentary glass of wine or champagne. In this instance, it was champagne. Result!

The ES menu at Skylon is a set 3 course meal (3 courses for £30 or 2 courses for £25) with a meat, fish and vegetarian option for starters and mains. After our waiter had taken our food order, he asked if we would like to order wine, to which I replied “yes. Can I have…”, then I was cut off. To order the wine, he had to get the sommelier. Now, I’m not being funny, but if the waiter is there and a guest knows what wine they want, why go get a sommelier? If anything, it wastes time and seems completely over the top and pretentious. If I wanted help in choosing the wine, then by all means get the sommelier to come to the rescue.

I didn’t mind so much though as the sommelier was rather delicious himself, but this kind of fuss and robotic service really puts me off. Now, it could be said that this is just the way they run things, which is fine, but if that’s the argument, surely the wine order should have been taken before the food order?

To start with, Luc opted for the celeriac soup with a horseradish and chive cream and I had the potted ham hock with apples, capers and parsley salad. My starter was pretty delicious. It was nice and light and incredibly flavoursome. The apple, capers and parsley salad gave it a nice, fresh and crisp finish. Luc’s soup on the other hand was less than perfect. Although it tasted nice, it was under seasoned, which was a shame. The soup was served in a way that, for me, is a bit over the top. The bowl is laid down in front of the guest, then the soup poured in from a jug. Part of me wanted to laugh at this show that was being put on and another part of me wanted to cry. But onwards and upwards as they say.

For mains, Luc had the roasted cod steak with braised puy lentils and crispy bacon. This was a good choice. The cod was cooked perfectly. It was meaty, flaky and worked well with the lentils. He wasn’t too keen on the bacon, but I’m guessing that’s more down to personal taste. I had the slow roasted duck leg, winter spiced red cabbage and creamy mash. I found the duck leg to be quite dry and overdone, which was a real shame as it sounded great on paper. The cabbage was nice enough. Nothing overly exciting. The mash though was strange. I found it to be quite grainy and under seasoned. But yet again, there was a huge fuss about serving the gravy. Sorry, jus. It also came in a jug, which is great, but the waitress presented me with my dish, then poured the gravy over for me. It might sound like I’m bashing fine dining here, but I’m not. I do like fine dining, but not to the extent where it becomes more of a show then impeccable service. I’m surprised that my food wasn’t cut for me as well! Maybe dessert can save us?

By this stage, Luc was pretty full, but the beast within me was in it for the long run. I ordered the warm carrot cake pudding with caramel ice cream. Yes, I know. How amazing does that sound! But it only sounds amazing I’m afraid. What was served, looked impressive, but tasted awful. The ice cream was delicious. I could have happily eaten just that, but the carrot cake pudding? Wow. It was bone dry and lacked any interesting flavour. It was bland and powdery. Not a good way to end the meal.

I must admit, I was pretty disappointed with the whole experience. The food was ok at best, but not great. I know we were dining off a set menu, but if anything, that should be the perfect time for the chef to showcase what he or she is capable of. A friend of mine commented, and I quote, “The bar is excellent, but the food is very international hotel bistro.” As much as it pains me, I have to agree.

But not only that, whilst sat at the table, we must have had 6 different members of staff approach our table. One to pour wine, wine to serve food, one to pour water, one to clear dishes and so on. It was too much. I love attentive service, but I found this to be more overbearing than attentive. It also meant that we couldn’t build a relationship with any of the staff. There was no personable approach. It was very robotic and stiff. Would I dine there again? Maybe, but not in any rush to. But I would go to the bar, just to experience it.

About Daniel John Lynch

I’m a fat man trapped inside a skinny man’s body. After many years of working in the hospitality industry and travelling around the world, I’ve finally decided to do something with my worldly knowledge and write. I’m also a documentary film maker and lover of food and all things London. Follow me on Twitter @danieljohnlynch