As a history geek graduate, the name Gillray immediately makes me think of stick-thin William Pitts, dragon-headed Napoleans and maniac hordes of sans-culottes revolutionaries - like I said, I'm a nerd. As such, I was obviously chomping at the bit to pay Gillray's Steakhouse and Bar a visit, a restaurant that's named after the father of satirical prints and political cartoons. Known for dazzling its guests with Thameside views and old world sophistication, I'll be the first to admit that Adidas trainers and a denim shirt weren't the best choices of attire, but that didn't stop Gillray's charm rubbing off on me.
Few venues in London can match what the Gillray's team have to offer. In keeping with its namesake, the restaurant's based right in the eye of Britain's political storm, sitting comfortably within the winding corridors of Westminster's County Hall and looking across the river at the Houses of Parliament. In truth, it's quite hard to not get swept up in all the pomp and ceremony that hovers around each corner. The restaurant purposely keeps things classic and timeless. Huge chandeliers and even bigger windows flood the main dining area with light and the wood-panelled walls work with the elegant furniture to make the venue's sophisticated tilt as obvious as possible - as if the coat-and-tails doormen didn't do so already. James Gillray's most iconic prints and caricatures have been blown up on canvas and are spread throughout, hanging on the walls lining the entire dining area. But without question, the headliner here is the restaurant's stunning views. On a hot summer's day, there are few better ways to relax in the evening than by watching Britain's lingering sun turn the sky purple as it sinks behind the Palace of Westminster; it's the stuff goosebumps are made for.
The Food & Drink
To start the evening, out friendly waiter pointed us in the direction of the 2014 Argentinian Malbec (£40), a full-bodied red that, despite offering an initially strong grape flavour, mellowed out at the end of each sip and left a smooth, almost crisp sensation at the back of your tongue.
To really test the full coverage of the food menu, we opted to start with the pan-seared scallops, served with crispy wafer-thin bacon slices (£14) and the green pea, garlic and asparagus soup (£6). The scallops were as tender as they should be, and the accompanying sweet chutney was nicely tamed by the natural flavour of the paper-thin bacon slithers. Much to my surprise however, it was the soup that stood out. Served with a floating poached egg, the vibrant green colour matched the rich flavours of the dish. The al dente asparagus had been grilled and offered a nice texture clash with the smooth soup. Best of all, the kick of the rich garlic was well infused throughout the soup and really stressed the complexity of each spoonful.
Our grilled steaks and side dishes quickly followed on the tails of our starters. Every cut of Aberdeen Angus beef served by the kitchen is sourced from English farms and aged for at least 35 days. The lean 300g Fillet (£32) cut was the clear choice for me, while my partner opted for the 400g T-bone (£32). Both were nicely seared on the outside and were delicately cooked to our preference, with the T-bone offering much more natural steak flavour. Adding a different element into the fold, we ordered a creamy bearnaise and a dark peppercorn sauce (both £3) for each cut; the former delivered a moreish, salty taste while the latter sadly lacking that back-of-the-throat pepper sting that I was expecting.
To accompany - and in many ways complete the meal - we ordered a side of dauphinoise potatoes, the garlic and butter coated kale, and the roasted field mushroom (£5 each). Despite being a bit dry for my liking, the rich dauphinoise potatoes provided that smooth stodge that every belly-bursting steak dinner really needs. The kale, by contrast, was light and had an almost smoky side to it. Similarly, the field mushroom was delicately grilled and had been infused with thyme to enhance the vegetables natural earthy taste.
Slightly out of breath after having eaten at least half a kilogram of food, our mercifully light desserts were swiftly placed in front of us. Hoping to feel refreshed, we went for the raspberry sorbet (£3.50 a scoop) and the deconstructed lemon meringue pie (£8). The sorbet was exactly what we needed; the tart, stinging flavour of the raspberry cleansed our palates while the ice-cold sensation intervened just before the taste became overwhelming. Likewise, the fresh citrus of the lemon stood out while the shards of thin meringue and the raspberry-flavoured marshmallows gave the dish a surprising mix of textures. Both explode with flavour and proved to be the perfect way to sign-off a gut-busting meal.
Gillray's Steakhouse and Bar stands head and shoulders above the rest and shows absolutely no sign of budging. As you've probably guessed, I feel head over heels for this swanky spot. It wasn't just the fact that it appealed to the nerdy historian in me or the fact that it boasts unrivalled Thameside views. The restaurant's steaks are second to none and, when coupled with the grandeur of where you're sitting, really creates a sense of British charm that you only really find in old black and white films.