First things first guys, don’t panic, you have not forgotten Valentine’s day again.
In fact, the Festival of Love is a packed programme of music, art, dance and performance which is held at the Southbank Centre. The festival uses the arts to explore love in its many forms; including love of cities and places, love’s power to inspire creativity and social change, and the changing nature of love in in the 21st century. To celebrate the festival Skylon, which is situated within Royal Festival Hall has created a five course tasting menu available until the end of August so we went down to check it out.
Before we get going it’s worth me mentioning that I was having a busy week and made a mistake when making my booking. I arrived on a Saturday evening to discover that there was no reservation under my name. After double checking my confirmation email I discovered that I was 24 hours late for my table and had booked for the wrong evening. Despite it being a busy evening for the restaurant the theme of love was clearly resonating in the air as the staff went out of their way to arrange a last minute table for me and my guest.
Despite its reputation for incredible design Skylon is fairly inconspicuous from the outside to the extent that those wayfaring along a buzzing Southbank may not notice it at all. A small sign outside of the dedicated side entrance highlights its existence, and I like that. In an area where scores of generic chain restaurants plead for attention with illuminated signs and loud music Skylon does the opposite. It’s poise is testament to its reputation. What Tom Cook and his team have been working on does not require self-glorification.
The large and airy dining space benefits from high ceilings and enormous windows which begun to reflect the setting sun off of the River Thames as we were seated. Numbers of attentive and well-dressed staff manoeuvred around the restaurant ensuring that guests were never without a glass of wine to sip or a basket of bread to pick at. We began the tasting menu with a welcome cocktail. Vodka infused with vanilla, chilli, lime juice and Visciolata del cardinale wine made up the violet coloured drink which almost had sorbet-like qualities and refreshed the palate in anticipation of the feast that was to ensue.
Next up on the menu which is based solely around ingredients considered an aphrodisiac was Sea Bream Carpaccio with cucumber, fennel, lime and chilli. As we had selected the menu with paired wines a sommelier was next to the table pouring a 2014 Malagousia whilst explaining its relevance to the dish. The presentation of all dishes was immaculate. Following the Sea Bream was a rich, melt in the mouth Ballontine of foie gras with fig and toasted brioche paired with a 2013 Riesling Kabinett.
The third course (and the first main course) was roasted stone bass fillet with artichoke barigoule. The stone bass tasted fresh and being a mild flavoured fish complimented the artichoke barigoule perfectly. The second main course was a superb roasted duck breast with pickled kohlrabi and pomegranate. It was the first time I had tried the odd looking Kohlrabi which in appearance is a cross between Broccoli and Cauliflower that tastes like cabbage. The pomegranate gave the dish a sweet dimension whilst the pairing wine was a 2011 Chateau des Graviers.
The final part of this 5 course extravaganza was a dark chocolate and cherry mousse with cherry sorbet. The generous portion of mousse was rich and moist and complimented superbly with a sharp cherry sorbet. The final drink pairing of the evening came in the form of a sweet Hungarian dessert wine, Tokaji Aszu – the perfect way to end the meal.
The relaxed nature of Skylon’s Festival of Love Menu ensured that the evening was an experience as opposed to simply dinner. In total we spent three and a half hours in the restaurant slowly enjoying and appreciating all of the amazing food and wine that was served to us. The staff take their time to educate you on everything that is put before you adding an educational dimension to proceedings. At similar tasting menu experiences the evenings have a tendency to become a frantic conveyor belt of courses rushed before you with no time to breathe in-between. It’s a credit to the team at Skylon that I left their restaurant on a busy Saturday night having tried some incredible food in an incredible dining room without even a single hint of haste.
Skylon | Royal Festival Hall | www.skylon-restaurant.co.uk
Words by Jack David