Today I want to tell you about a London hidden gem I discovered last week. The team behind the Tower Brasserie at Guomans Tower Hotel asked me a few weeks ago if I wanted to grab a friend (or in this case, my Mummy as I felt it had been too long since our last mother daughter trip to the city!) and come along to try a special tasting edition of their menu to get a bit of a feel for what they do. Usually when I'm invited along to a restaurant I try to say yes as I like to give lots of different types of places a go, but so far I have not enjoyed a place I've eaten on the house at enough to want to share it with you. Until last week, that is.
Last Tuesday the weather was very typical of London in the Spring; threatening rain while we strolled along Southbank on our way from the tube to the restaurant, tipping it down while we were inside, but hot and sunny when we emerged in Knightsbridge later that afternoon for a spot of shopping. We just managed to make it back into the Underground to head home at the end of the day before the rain started again, and we're frankly both surprised that we managed to not open our umbrellas once. However, the stormy weather did mean I could get some rather great moody pictures of Tower Bridge, as my usual haunts mean that I don't really have cause to get up close to it all that often in my jaunts around the city.
Now, I was rather unsure, in spite of the great menu I'd seen in advance when we sat down. In spite of the fantastic view from our table of the Tower and of the Shard poking up in the distance (I took this shot in one of the days rare snatches of sun), the decor seemed a little 90's and dated; you could really tell that you were in a business hotel, with a very set cliental. Usually when I'm reviewing a restaurant, I don't just take the food into account; I weigh up the atmosphere, decor, service and ambience just as much. However, when the food started to arrive, and thanks to such lovely service (which other tables were also getting, not just me at a press table) my original doubts simply melted away. This is a place that Londoners need to know about.
We started with the Plate of Game, which does feature on their menu as a starter. You can get it for £9 for the one of you, or £17 for a sharing plate, which is excellent value. I know I don't usually price up the dishes in my reviews, but I want to emphasis what good value the food is here. It is hard to find this sort of food for these sort of prices in Central London, which is one of the reasons why I've classed it a 'hidden gem'.
Working left to right, we have a scoop of cracked black pepper ice cream, which was creamy, unusual and strong in the best possible way, and also worked very well in one bite with the venison mousse and toasted brioche next to it. In the middle, one of my favourites the wild boar prosciutto. It has a strong flavour, and a much more crumbly (if you can call cured meats crumbly) texture than regular prosciutto, and was a nice treat to have something a little different. Hidden under my brioche at the far end was a piece of glazed smoked duck breast which we were both so impressed by; a great strong smokey flavour, without being too overpowering.
Something else we were both very impressed by at the Tower Brasserie was the wines that were paired with each course. A lot of thought had clearly gone into them, and lots of the menu items on the main menu had pairing suggestions alongside them. It is nice to just let someone else make the decisions for you, sometimes! Our first course was paired with a rather wonderful Cotes Du Rhone red.
Next up, we had 'The Ocean'; left to right beluga lentils, grilled seabass, seared scallops with black truffle honey, lobster ravioli and celeriac puree. This selection is not on the menu as a single dish, but it did give a good showcase of what some of the other menu items would be like. The seabass was perfectly cooked and crispy, and the scallop flawless. I was also impressed with the ravioli where the lobster was in a reduced down bisque inside, which the head chef informed us took about three days to make. Based off of these, I'd recommend the Scallops with Beluga Lentils, Black Truffle Honey and Celeriac Puree, Lobster Ravioli and Pan Fried Fillet Of Seabass when you visit. All can be paired well with the Errazuriz Sauvignon Blanc.
The manager was kind enough to leave one of their main menus at our table, with the instructions to just ask if there was anything on there that caught my eye and we wanted to try. I had not planned anything extra, but I was rather intrigued by the small plate of Spicy Crab Bonbons with Red Thai Curry Dip, Soy and Ginger Pickled Fennel and Coconut Cotton Candy. We really enjoyed this dish too, and it showed that the rest of the menu was also up to the standard of the food we were being served on our special tasting menu. It was all rather wonderful; it lives up to the photographs. A special shout out has to be given to the small white circle you can see on the left hand side. This is the Coconut Cotton Candy, which was really not what I expected from the menu description. It turned out to be a fantastically little flavourful cut out of panna cotta, which had the most potent flavour hit and was the highlight of the meal for both of us. Worth ordering the dish for it alone!
We soon moved onto what was supposed to be the third course in our lineup which also happens to be the house signature dish; 'The Farm'. On the left we have my highlight from this course, the duck confit ravioli. Perfect homemade pasta, and a delicious duck filling which is just like those Duck Confit Sandwiches from The French Comte at Borough Market I keep raving about and I often eat for breakfast while I'm wondering around working on my Borough Market column.
Next we had the grilled beef steak which was the only part of the meal that I did not enjoy. While it was not as dry as the last time I was given steak without being asked how I wanted it cooked at The Fable, as someone who likes super rare beef it was quite an effort for me to get through. The pancetta shard was crispy and flavourful however, and the barley risotto that the shoulder of lamb was settled on was frankly delicious. As for the lamb itself, unless we're talking spiced mince I have absolutely zero appreciation for it, but I can tell you it was so tender it just fell apart with my fork, and my mother really enjoyed her portion.
Dessert, served with a lovely Zinck Portrait Riesling was certainly spectacular, and I honestly have no idea how my mother managed to finish all of hers after all we'd eaten. Then again, I raided the fridge at 9pm for leftover cold homemade chicken pie later that evening, and she did not. Anyway, the highlight for me was the jasmine infused compote that the ice cream rested on, but the white chocolate creme patissiere and berries were worth writing home about. The brownies were good, but the absolute showstopper was the fig creme brûlée. The top was crunchy and delicately broke into shards when tapped, and the inside custard was unusually runny, rich and luxurious. The perfect way to finish an almost perfect meal.
Once the British weather has decided to behave itself, the Tower Brasserie also has outdoor seating which would be the perfect spot to grab a bite to eat and a cocktail or two looking over Tower Bridge and the river. The decor may not be all that, and the presentation may be a bit 90's, but the food and service here are fantastic, and at prices you would not expect for the standard you receive in London. It is a spot for when I fancy a quiet and classy meal in the city before, for, or after meetings, and I hope you'll take the time out to visit them too.
What was the last unexpectedly brilliant meal you ate out, where the food really outshone the expectations you had before you walked in the door?