Le Pont de la Tour
K - "It looks as though they have a terrace overlooking the river - we could eat outside."
C - "Seriously, who wants to eat outside? It's London not the French Riviera. And right on the bank of the Thames the wind will be probably be blowing a gale."
K - "It looks as though the terrace has a great view of Tower Bridge."
C - "That just convinces me even more that this is a bad idea. What could say 'tourist rip-off' more than sitting underneath that? We really should find somewhere else."
K - "They have a Domaine Guiberteau Saumur Blanc on the wine list."
C - "What time's our table?"
And so one evening I found myself sauntering over Tower Bridge, elbowing my way through a throng of camera-wielding tourists taking photographs of each other, convincing strangers to take photographs of them, or taking photographs of themselves, making good use of their telescopic 'selfie-sticks'. Having descended the sadly litter-strewn steps of Tower Bridge I walked along historic Shad Thames, which runs between old riverside warehouses once crammed with sacks of cloves, cinnamon and other then-exotic spices, as well as chests of coffee and tea. Overhead were little bridges, just wide enough for a man to roll a barrel over, connecting the upper floors of adjacent warehouses. It wasn't long before I had a crick in my neck from admiring these bridges, and the restored Victorian edifices they clung to, and so turning back to the task at hand I located the entrance to Le Pont de la Tour, to be shown into a cavernous dining room. And then I was immediately taken out the other side. Yes, to the terrace. Happily I didn't have to brave the winds though, because it was turning out to be a surprisingly balmy spring evening. In fact it was perfect for dining outside.
The options here include a tasting menu, dining à la carte, or the menu du jour. Opting for the menu du jour (which was dimanche, by the way, when for some reason the menu differs to that presented from lundi through to samedi) I kicked off with a salad of smoked Yorkshire duck breast, with heritage carrots, baby turnip and blood orange dressing, which comprised a few paper-thin slivers of almost-perceptibly-smoky almost-perceptibly-duck, a scattering of vegetables, a few inadequately-washed and rather gritty salad leaves and rather too much dressing (although to be fair the rather limp duck would have struggled to stand up to even the tiniest sprinkling of anything). It was a distinctly underwhelming dish. A starter of English asparagus spears with a lemon and herb hollandaise was certainly a better choice, the spears gently cooked and free of grit, the sauce rich and plentiful.
Things picked up a little with the main course, a pan-fried sea bream with spinach, brown shrimp and parsley butter; the bream was nicely cooked, with a gentle crisp to the skin, and although it was not striking in terms of flavour the shrimp and butter sauce helped in this regard, so the two key elements worked well together here. A loin of pork, with spiced pork belly and apple was good, and really this would be a fair description of both dishes; nicely prepared, does-what-it-says-on-the-tin fare, but neither was particularly memorable. A pudding of pineapple galette with pistachio ice cream, however, was more striking, with vibrant flavours throughout, and it eclipsed the so-so selection of cheeses from the Fromagerie Beillevaire which I chose with surprising ease.
Some dinners are great, some disappoint, while some are in the middle and they can slip from the memory with surprising rapidity. This meal most certainly falls somewhere between the latter two categories. The saving grace was the 2011 Saumur Blanc from Domaine Guiberteau, which I have omitted to mention thus far, which was stunning, as the Guiberteau wines so often are. In fact this was the high point of the dinner. Most curious of all, to my mind at least, was the strange faux-French feel of this restaurant; there is the naming of the menus, French when it suits (menu du jour), English when it doesn't (menu dégustation, anyone?), the cheesy name of the restaurant itself, the traditional black garb of the French-ish waiters and, of course, the ritual of taking dinner sur terrasse. And then, in contrast, there is the menu; Yorkshire duck and English asparagus, and alongside that some suggestion of interest in locally sourced ingredients, flour from a local farm, mullet from the Thames estuary and so on. This is a restaurant that seems confused, neither British nor French, and not a convincing fusion of the two either, and that lack of surety seemed, to me, to come across quite clearly on the plate.
Prices: The menu du jour is £25 per head for two courses, £30 per head for three courses, with an £8 supplement for cheese. The tasting menu is £55 per head, £90 per head with accompanying wine. Dining à la carte is £11-15 for starters and £20-38 for main courses. The Guiberteau Saumur Blanc was £49. An espresso was £3.15. (14/9/14)