The Refinery Bankside is Drake and Morgan’s pioneering venue. The very first place the group opened back in 2008 before they shot to restaurant superstardom, and with that success, a whole line-up of top notch eateries across the UK. Has the nationwide popularity gone to the original venue’s head? I went to The Refinery to see if they’ve still got it.
The Venue and Atmosphere
The whole of London is having great wads of cash thrown at it in a bid to regenerate any and every corner. South Bank and Bermondsey are no stranger to this, with the recent opening of Flat Iron Square and the not so-long-ago building of The Shard. The Blue Fin building was one of the early openers, a sprawling complex of glass and bistro-style restaurants, in which The Refinery is tucked away.
A large open-plan space, the restaurant caters largely for the after-work crowd; don’t let that put you off, this is wholly different from the City’s cash flashing and suits. Dressed down groups mingled in the bar area which was full of sofas and high-tables, while the restaurant combined modern and country with an eclectic mix of wood panelling, floor-to-ceiling windows, and rustic tables. Despite the sheer size of the open-plan restaurant, there was an intimate feel, with tables cosied into corners and low-hanging bare bulbs.
The Food and Drink
Drake and Morgan’s menu seemed dependable, like the friend who always remembers to send you a birthday card - lovely but not too full of surprises. Hearty dishes such as burgers, flat breads and fish and chips, seemed fail-safe, if not too exciting. But appearances can be deceiving and The Refinery's menu packs a flavour-filled punch in its traditional dishes. Instead of the classic 'unoffensive but slightly dull' tomato sauce, the restaurants’s meatball starter (£6.95) was a herby winter warmer, served with chunky bits of sweet potato, feta and cannelloni beans, that had us wiping our plates clean with wedges of sourdough bread. Salt and Pepper Squid (£6.50) was a crispy jumble of tentacles, perfect for dipping into the sharp lemon mayonnaise.
For the mains, we went from the specials; Stone Bass and Red Mullet (£14.95) was two white fish fillets covered in a drool-worthy rich buerre blanc. Tenderstem broccoli coated in almonds (£3.95) saved the dish from being too overwhelming. A fat lump of pan-roasted lamb (£14.95) came in bite-sized hunks with fondant mash and crunchy green beans covered in a meaty jus. We continued the Great British tradition of stuffing yourself to the point of nausea with a side of Roman Fries (£4.50), a decadent pile of french fries covered in Parmesan, rosemary and truffle shavings, good enough to keep cramming in long after we were full.
With my waistband sufficiently cutting off all circulation to my legs, pudding was never going to happen, instead cocktails provided our sugary hit. The Raspberry Ripple (£8.50) was the dairy-filled cherry on top of my indulgent cake, a wickedly thick mix of Johnnie Walker Black, Drambuie Honey Liqueur, raspberries and cream that was like a big scoop of melted ice cream in a glass. Tipsy Affogato (£7.95) was served in a quaint china tea cup and upped the caffeine levels with Kahlua, Amaretto, ice cream and espresso.
It’s not hard to see how The Refinery Bankside inspired the entire Drake and Morgan empire, with its hybrid of rustic and modern interiors, chilled-out setting and solid menu. Avoiding the trappings of becoming too successful, the restaurant fits comfily into their flat shoes by staying true to its original ethos - excellent dishes with added 'oomph'.