The UK based Restaurant, Hotel and Wine Review
Over the past few years there have been many conversions of large Victorian and Edwardian banking halls into restaurants. The restaurant on the corner of Aldwych and Kingsway (what a location!) is called Bank, but in October 1996, all traces of its ancestry were thoroughly expunged by the designer, Julyan Wickham, who has liberated a huge space incorporating a state of the art kitchen where the toiling chefs can be clearly seen exercising their skills. From this dynamic cauldron, over 300 diners can be fed at a sitting. There's a feeling of space, light, and above all, energy. Teetering overhead is a vast assemblage of glass plates, I hesitate to call it a chandelier, it's more of an installation, as sculpture is called nowadays.
The quality and vision of the design extends to all the smaller details, down to the stationery, matchbooks and the menus. Ah the menus! Bank's founders were in the wet fish business, supplying quality piscine products to the restaurant trade. They thought they could make better use of their wares than some of their customers, so they took the plunge themselves. But what of the menus? Hang on, let me just tell you, that before becoming fishmongers, Tony Allan and Ronnie Truss were chefs, so they know all about menus.
The chef at Bank is Christian Delteil, who won a Michelin star at his own restaurant L'Arlequin, of happy memory in Battersea. He has put together a menu that is truly "Modern British", with traditional dishes given a contemporary twist, although Christian prefers to call his style "liberated French", and why not!
Bank has been a conspicuous success, and the team, which includes the front of house manager Eric Garnier (who opened Quaglino's) has floated on the stock exchange as BGR plc. In Southwark they have recently opened the first of an exciting new venture called Fish! as well as relaunching the much acclaimed One Lawn Terrace in Blackheath which is now known simply as Lawn .
OK - the menu! It's a big brasserie style menu with lots of fish. Good old favourites have been dusted off and the all important details restored. If youn want to be fasionably retro, you could have prawn cocktail (£6.50) followed by Bank fish & chips (£16.95) - halibut, mushy peas, tartare sauce - with bread and butter pudding (£4.80) for afters. You can't get more British than that! The only disappointment is that the tartare sauce doesn't come in a little foil sachet. There's no pleasing some people.
My guest (no, come to think of it I was hers!) had Caesar salad, a bold choice in the UK, where it is seldom got right. This was perfection - simplicity itself. Great big slivers of very fresh parmesan, crunchy veined leaves of romaigne lettuce and a creamy dressing. Nothing else - no hints of Nicoise, or Waldorf trying to creep in under the blanket.
I had the dressed crab with avocado dressing flamboyantly zig-zagged around the plate. The crab had been pushed into a tall dariole mould with the red meat in first so it stood up like a rather phallic tower. The freshness and flavour of the crabmeat was very noticeable and I appreciated it.
My host had seared mullet on a bed of wok-fried bok choy, a good and easygoing combination, but not as good as my roast cod whose vivid green parsley nage was delicious. Where there is so much fish on the premises, there's usually plenty of very good fish stock. An ingredient that is really telling when it comes to the flavour of the sauces and reductions.
I am dying to go back in order to try some of the meat dishes; I think I'll have to sneak in at night. There are several old favourites and I'd really like to see how they are cooked and presented here at Bank. Salt beef and braised lentils can be so satisfying, and glazed belly of pork when done properly has a texture like balm - these are supreme comfort foods. I'm very into confit duck (my students are fed up with it!), but it sounded good, along with its accompaniment of choucroute and juniper berry jus. Prices range from £9.50 for chicken crostini or bangers and mash, to £16.50 for calves' liver and bacon.
Puddings may sound very traditional - spotted dick and custard, tiramisu, roasted spiced pears, plum crumble - but my gingerbread apple charlotte (£5.10 - who gets the 10p?) was a very postmodernist reconstruction - so expect interesting twists and above all, quality.
There's a very accessible wine list, with wines listed not by region, but by style. How are you today darling? light crisp or smooth oakey? Pity, I was hoping for lively fruity followed by full firm. Enough of that.
It was pointed out to me that you can have breakfast at Bank from 7.00am. It's the place for a power breakkie! For £9.95 you can have fried egg, black pudding, Cumberland sausage, bacon, tomato and toast, with cereal to start, and as many refills of coffee and tea as your bladder can take. What a start to your day!
Clifford Mould April 1999
Bank, 1 Kingsway, London WC2
020 7379 9797
Open for breakfast 7.00am to 11.30am Monday-Friday
Lunch Monday-Sunday 12 noon to 3pm Dinner Monday-Saturday 5.30pm to 11.30pm, Sunday closes 10.30pm
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