An unseasonably late hail storm as I crossed Westminster Bridge ensured that I arrived at the 5* Marriott Hotel County Hall in a considerably wet and dishevelled state. In contrast to the wild April day outside, inside the hotel was a haven of calm order. The welcome from the staff, as I was shown to the nearest Ladies room to tidy up, was a perfect blend of concern and care.
Cocktails won the day
A few minutes later, looking distinctly more respectable, I joined friends in Gillray’s wood-panelled lounge bar. Already comfortably seated at a low table admiring the views out over the River Thames and the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and the London Eye they were also studying the Drinks menu debating as to whether to go for a cocktail or a gin – the bar holds well over 100 different varieties of gin. Tempting as many of the gins were, cocktails won the day.
The trouble was, however, they were all so unusual and so tempting that choice was really difficult. However, the lovely bar staff solved the problem by suggesting we might like to try their latest creation ‘Drawing Out a New Batch of Kings’. Served in copper cups it turned out to be a blend of homemade Bacardi Carta Blanca spiced rum, lime juice, Orgeat syrup, passionfruit and mint leaves. It was stylish, pretty and absolutely delicious.
Gillray’s prides itself on its steaks
Tempting also sums up the menu in the elegant, adjoining wood-panelled, chandeliered dining room. It is a fairly narrow, curved dining room and we were lucky, from our table we had a reasonably good view of the Thames.
But truth be told we were more interested in the menus than the view. Complimentary, puffy and cheesy Yorkshire Puddings were served whilst we studied them. Award-winning Gillray’s prides itself on its steaks – and rightly so. It is a steakhouse par excellence serving 35-day aged Aberdean Angus steaks.
What, I asked with some trepidation, was the £55 Bulls Head. Somewhat to my relief, it turned out to be nothing more sinister than a kilo of steak served on the bone. The steaks, on or off the bone, come with a variety of sauces, and they all looked wonderful. But I had spotted Stone Bass on the menu – a fish new to me, and one which I am now desperate to eat again.
We shared starters and desserts…
There were too many tempting starters which we all wanted to try, so we shared – meltingly tender scallops, a creamy chicken liver parfait with gingerbread, confit salmon, pork terrine with tangy piccalilli, and probably my favourite - a pea soup with goat curd and pea shoots.
We shared desserts too: Gillray’s sherry trifle, served in its own little jar, Bakewell tart, a rhubarb pannacota and a thin shelled chocolate bomb which when cracked open revealed summer fruits. My favourite was a toss-up between the chocolate bomb and the pannacota – but the pannacota probably won by a short head.
Starters £6 - £16; Steaks £20 - £55 kilo Bulls Head; other dishes £14 - £25; side dishes from £3.50; Desserts from £6. Wine by the glass from £7.50; bottle from £29. Menus change with the seasons. The kitchen, under the direction of the very charming and talented Executive Chef Sylvan Chevereau deserves all its awards and accolades.
…and some cocktails
It was Bank Holiday Friday and none of us in a hurry to get home, so having been wowed by our first cocktail it was back to the bar for another of Head Bar Man, Sam Mitchell, and his colleagues’ cocktail creations.
As with our starters and desserts we shared; each of us ordering a cocktail - along with several straws.
From an extensive list we chose ‘Very Slippy Weather’- Grey Goose vodka, Luxardo limoncello, amaretto, lemon curd jam, lemon juice and homemade meringue; ‘Light Expelling Darkness’- homemade Bacardi Carta Blanca spiced rum, Chambord, pineapple, Orgeat syrup, lime and Cointreau; ‘The Jubilee’ - Bombay Sapphire infused with rhubarb and ginger jam, mint, lemon juice and sugar; and my favourite – partly because it was served in a pretty tea cup and saucer – ‘Not Fit For Liberty’ - Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Calvados, coffee, Chocolate Bitters, Rhubarb Bitters, pecan nuts and cinnamon. Cocktails £13.
The name ‘Gillray’s’ incidentally comes from James Gillray – the 18th century political satirist – examples of his art work and caricatures are on display. How nice it would have been, I thought, as I made my way back across Westminster Bridge to London Victoria and the train home – if I had been able to merely head for the hotel’s lift and upstairs to one of its comfortable and elegant rooms for the night. Preferably one with a river view!