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Friday 4 April 2014

Edwins - Cecil's - Gillray's

Wednesday 12th March - The Trinity Pub in Borough is a regular haunt, as I often rehearse at nearby Henry Wood Hall with KSO (we're only one letter away from being the LSO), so I was delighted to hear that the publicans were opening a restaurant upstairs called Edwins.  I popped along with three friends during their soft opening, after a pint downstairs first of course.

All of the beautiful photos of Edwins that you see below are the work of Paul Winch-Furness, one of London's finest food & drink photographers.  Paul was clearly a big fan of the stunning little dining room, and released several pictures in advance that caught my eye.  We particularly liked the look of the raised table by the bar which would be perfect for surveying the rest of the room.

Photo Credit - Paul Winch-Furness

Photo Credit - Paul Winch-Furness

Photo Credit - Paul Winch-Furness

Photo Credit - Paul Winch-Furness

Photo Credit - Paul Winch-Furness
They have an excellent gin selection with the likes of St.George's Dry Rye, Boxer and Monkey 47 available, a decent wine list, and they benefit on the beer front from the pub downstairs

The starters or "small plates" were superb across the board.  Beetroot, Curd & Pomegranate (pictured below) was light and bursting with flavour.  Scallops in Filo with Harissa Mayo were everything that we had hoped, and Crispy Pork Belly with Cauliflower and Rabbit, Polenta & Parmesan also impressed. Expanding that section of the menu and letting it take over proceedings would be a wise move!

Beetroot, Curd & Pomegranate - Photo Credit - Paul Winch-Furness
Main courses displayed more good cooking and attractive presentation, but they didn't quite match the high standards set by the inventive starters.  My Wild Venison with baby root veg and shallott purée was perfectly tasty, though £17 was perhaps a tad too high, especially as I needed some garlic mash on the side. Natalie's Grilled Seafood Bouillabaisse was very popular, and the generous portion earned the £18 price tag.

Vegetarians will be happy with the likes of Honey roasted pear, kohlrabi, walnut & ricotta salad and Gnocchi, Somerset blue, walnuts on the menu.

Photo Credit - Paul Winch-Furness

Photo Credit - Paul Winch-Furness
For dessert, there are two puddings to choose from and a cheese board.  We went for the Pear & Almond Tart with Chantilly Cream and Chocolate Fondant with Honeycomb Icecream.  These were solid but uninspiring, I think there is room for something even better here or maybe just one more choice.  The fondant appeared with pistachio ice cream, a reasonable replacement, though not ideal for someone that was craving honeycomb or with a nut allergy.

A photo from me to prove I was there - Pear & Almond Tart
Criticisms were small though, mainly due to the small plates being so exceptional and raising expectations for the rest of the meal! The atmosphere is delightful and the staff were very friendly.  Service could be tightened up a bit, but its obviously very early days and I've been watching far too much of Russell Norman's Restaurant Man.  It's one of the cosiest dining rooms I have visited in London, and I can imagine it being equally pleasant in the day time with light crashing through the windows - perhaps I will return to try out their Saturday/Sunday brunch menu which is very enticing.

One more stop for the evening - we walked off a small amount of our three course meal as we made our way to Cecil's, London's latest speakeasy basement bar, just off Bermondsey Street.  Head down deserted Holyrood Street and look out for this gentlemen pictured below who will point you in the right direction...

Once inside, we made our way past some candlelit crates in a dark & atmospheric entrance, and headed downstairs to find a gorgeous art deco bar with an opium den / tea warehouse vibe - pure escapism on a par with Le Quecumbar and The Last Word.  A folk guitarist had the room under his spell, so we quietly found a table and perused the cocktail menu.

Cocktails are £6.50-£8.50 - I highly recommend The April 12th Incident (Santa Teresa Reserva rum w/ cognac, peach liqueur, breakfast tea, lemon, sugar) which is a steal at £6.50.  The Opium Tears was a twice shaken gin sour with ginger & maraschino, whilst Yuzu Shu Fizz was a refreshing mix of gin, sake, fino sherry, lemon, sugar & club soda.  We were also tempted by the Pot of Iniquity, "a melting pot of sloe gin, fresh lime, and apricot brandy" for 3/4 people to share for £25.  The complimentary giant bowl of shelled peanuts was very much appreciated, though it's hard to crack them quietly with live music playing, and we made quite a mess.  I'm told there is also a small Chinese food menu available.

Live music (and poetry / spoken word) is usually just on Wednesdays, with the occasional featured band on a Friday, and Saturdays are reserved for the rather special UFF Tea Merchant nights:

"Uff Tea brings 1930's Shanghai to life every Saturday night. Their extraordinary Oolong Weekend Tea Blend possesses transformative qualities that are said to be capable of transporting the consumer to another place and another time...

"Guests will find themselves transported to a cocktail party hosted by Mr Cecil Russell George Uff esq., who entertains his guests in the courtyard of his art deco residence. With live Jazz and our most wonderful cocktails."

Tickets are £15 (book in advance here) - effort is required on the attire front.  I very much enjoy their dress code advice on the website:
Ladies - Dress Code

"Prohibition has ended and a new era of fashion and femininity is upon us. A gal who takes risks with her fashion reflects modern times; be bold, beautiful, but don't be brash. Leave your coats and preconceptions at the door.

"Be it strapless, off the shoulder or a plunging backless crowd pleaser, Ladies this is the night to adorn yourself in that dress with the perfect décolletage. 'Ooh swish'. Alternatively for those who have the courage to embrace the masculate, high waisted trouser suits of matching colour and cloth will be sure to make the boys heads turn.

"Outrageous, extravagant or hedonistic, the only scandal would be to remain unremarkable betwixt the glittering moths that come and go among the whisperings, champagne and stars. What better way to stand out than draped in the richest colours and fabrics of the hour? Don't cache yourself away my dear, this is the night to see and be seen."

Men - Dress Code

"Though sir cannot go wrong in black tie and polished oxfords, for gentlemen who wish to hold court of an evening, a white tie and tails ensemble is a sure fire way to show who is in charge. Lounge suits properly pressed will work for the more unassuming man.

"Don't leave the accessories to your best gal; pocket squares, a Topper, Fedora, Boater, or Panama could be worn, with the consideration that the appropriate occasion may dictate that one must tip it in gesture.

"A fashionable man shouldn't be seen in public without a choice bit of silk adoring his neck. A smart tie is good, a bow tie is better. Shoes shone, hair slicked, and a kindly smile.

"Those who dare to wear 'Zoot' must have character to match. Fortune may favor the bold, but with risk there comes peril gentleman. Serving military personnel are welcome to wear Service Dress with properly polished boots, buckles and braces. However, we ask you to leave your sabre at the door.

"For those joining us from overseas, we welcome you to sport your national finery."

Cecil's is a brilliant addition to London's nightlife, and something that Bermondsey Street really needed.  I have recommended it to many people since my visit, and I suggest that you do the same!

Tuesday 11th March - The night before Edwins and Cecil's, I spent a rare evening out with my father as we were both invited over to Gillray's Steakhouse & Bar in London Marriott Hotel County Hall.  

County Hall under construction – circa 1920

I was attracted by the +70 gins behind the bar, but my Dad's angle was that he once worked in the same building when it was home to the Greater London Council (GLC).  Here's what he had to say:

"It was fascinating to visit the Marriott Hotel, having worked in the building as an administrative officer for the Greater London Council from 1969 until its abolition by Mrs Thatcher in 1986, and subsequently for the London Residuary Body, which devolved all the GLC’s powers to the London Boroughs and various quangos from then until I was made redundant in 1992.  I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that there is still some ex GLC officer (like a Japanese soldier believing World War Two is in progress) in a room in County Hall deciding where some GLC powers should be allocated!

Hiroo Onoda

"The area where the magnificent Gillray’s Steakhouse and Bar is situated was known as the Principal Floor and was only visited by officers when summoned to the Director General or one of the Members (politicians). I spent most of my career in the Transport Department so would be telephoned by the Chairman of the Transport Committee and asked to pop down to see him. This was a hazardous undertaking as one usually didn’t know what to expect and I often found myself explaining to angry constituents why they couldn’t have a particular traffic measure in their area. This was not part of my job description as the decision was clearly one for the Chairman based on options put to him by my professional colleagues!

"On my visit with Matt, I was very impressed with the care that has been taken to preserve the oak-panelled corridors and rooms on the Principal Floor - including the Members’ Library, still containing many of the books which were there in the days of the GLC.  But I must give pride of place to the delicious sherry trifle!"

Members' Library - a great spot for a boozy afternoon tea

I'll get to the sherry trifle.

Gillray's is named after James Gillray (1756 – 1815), whose artwork adorns the walls.  He was one of the three great British caricaturists, the others being William Hogarth (1697 – 1764) and Thomas Rowlandson (1756 – 1827).  He was particularly known for his political satires, many directed against George III.

ca. 1809 --- A political cartoon of Prime Minister William Pitt and Napoleon Bonaparte dividing up the globe, almost certainly after the Peace of Amiens in 1802. The legend reads "The Plumb-pudding in danger, or, State Epicures taking un Petit Souper, "the great Globe itself and all which it inherit" is too small to satisfy such unsatiable appetites."
The views from the windows of the bar at Gillray's are spectacular (Big Ben, The Houses of Parliament, The London Eye and the River Thames and co.) - if that's not enough for you, spend a night in the Balcony Suite! The bar itself is impressive with its imposing, tall Chesterfield sofas and an enormous Swarovski Crystal chandelier centre stage.  It is also one of the few bars in the area to have a Division Bell - an 8 minute warning for MPs to drink up and get back to the appropriate Division Lobby to vote for or against a resolution.

The Balcony Suite
As I mentioned, there are +70 gins behind the bar, and more importantly some very capable bartenders making an array of exciting cocktails, including the theatrical At Dusk pictured below (Caorunn Gin, Velvet Falernum, Kamm & Sons Ginseng spirit, lemon, orange, sugar).  I started with a superb Aged Negroni before moving on to a Night Bird (Xoriguer gin, Blackcurrant liqueur, vanilla syrup, cardamom essence, lemon, mango).  Non-alcoholic cocktails such as Mango, Mint & Moravian Pleasure will keep designated drivers / teetotallers happy too.  If you are feeling adventurous, you can order using iPads, but traditional menus are available too!

At Dusk - cocktail at Gillray's

We also shared a lovely bottle of Digby Fine English Sparkling Wine, 2009 Reserve Brut I believe.  That's right, we aren't just good for gin!  It is only available in select places at the moment including Selfridges, Charlotte's Bistro and Restaurant Story - well worth seeking out.

"An intriguing character, elegant with a certain raciness, this award-winning vintage is our blend of hand-harvested English Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes ripened in 2009’s gloriously sunny September.

"Refined bubbles deliver a crisp, refreshing apple and peach character, with a creamy biscuit finish. An inspired dining partner with smoked salmon or the most delectable oddities from your local cheesemonger. Quaff in the moment or cellar carefully."

Now, Gillray's is a specialist steakhouse, but on this occasion we decided to instead go for some of the interesting bar bites with the cocktails.  I will report back on the steak in the future, perhaps after one of their Meet the Butcher events, potentially preceded by a boozy afternoon tea with free flowing champagne, though that may prove to be too much for one day!

We filled the table with delights such as Spiced Crab Cakes with Dill Mayo, Ham Hock Fritters with Mustard, Braised Ox Cheek Buns with Wasabi and Truffle & Old Winchester Chips - all fantastic.  The standout savoury dishes were some lightly battered Fish Fingers with Tartare Sauce (simple but perfectly executed) and the incredible Gillray's Yorkie, a giant Yorkshire pudding with melted Montgomery cheese inside - heaven.

We managed to sneak some desserts from the main menu too, and Gillray's saved the best til last.  We shall return for the Dorset Batter Pudding (with its 30 minute cooking time) but the enormous Seasonal Lemon Meringue Pie with cold ice cream and warm English custard was a very good call.  Even better was the Traditional Sherry Trifle (I told you I'd get to it) which comes with a fun presentation ceremony! Our entertaining waiter brought it over in a sealed jam jar, undid the ribbon, made a channel down one side of the jar with a spoon, and poured the sherry inside in front of our eyes.  And if you can't manage all of it, just pop the top on and take it home!

It's worth heading to Gillray's just for those desserts, but with steaks, all the gin, boozy afternoon tea, top bar snacks, quirky cocktails, iPads, English sparkling wine, great views and a lot of history in the background, there's something for everyone.  Now you just need to find it!

Gillray's Steakhouse & Bar on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Square Meal

Square Meal

Edwins Borough on Urbanspoon

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