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Northbank Restaurant and Bar, One Paul's Walk, London EC4V 3QH

One of the welcome developments in London's contemporary restaurant scene has been the burgeoning of new riverside restaurants. Northbank is situated in pole position at the north end of the Millennium Footbridge, which links the South Bank arts centres with the city. For tourists, the bridge provides an easy way to get from the Tate Modern and other South Bank attractions to St Paul's Cathedral in the City. Northbank Restaurant has wonderful views over the river towards Southwark, its cathedral, the Globe Theatre and the Tate Modern gallery. My guest (who is the organist of Southwark Cathedral) was very chuffed to be able to see his charming early Georgian riverside townhouse from the table where we were seated.

It was a cold winter's evening when we arrived, but we couldn't fail to notice the attractive outside dining area, covered by a large umbrella. Even the array of infrared heaters would not have tempted anyone on that particular evening, but it will be a great attraction when spring finally arrives. We were only too glad to get inside, entering straight into the cosy bar area which was busy with people enjoying an after work cocktail.

The head chef is Peter Woods (previously at Allium under Anton Edelman) and the owner/restaurant manager is Christian Butler, both of whom have roots in the West Country. I was excited to read in the PR blurb that they are keen to source as many of the principal ingredients of their new Modern British Menu from that region. Another welcome sight was the presence on the wine list of a number of English beverages including ciders, wines and apple brandy. We kicked off with a very tasty glass of sparkling wine from the Chapel Down vineyard in Kent.

From the seven or so starters there was hog’s pudding, a sort of English version of the French boudin blanc, served with honey roasted apples. Fusions of British and continental cuisine could be found in dishes such as an oxtail raviolo with truffled leeks, or a West Country game and foie gras terrine. My guest had the special of the day, a perfectly made lobster raviolo in a rich bisque that overpowered the white meat in the pasta somewhat - but isn’t that always the case? I considered the Duchy of Cornwall oysters, but decided to give the kitchen more of a test with their Falmouth crab tart. Delicious crabby flavours positively polevaulted out of the pastry case.

For our meaty main courses, we switched wines to a red, again from Chapel Down in Tenterden, made from the early ripening Rondo hybrid. This grape takes advantage of England’s long growing season. Early ripening it may be, but relatively late picked it almost certainly was, displaying rich berry fruit flavours and a silky mouth feel.

I was surprised to find neither pheasant, partridge nor wildfowl given that we were still in the game season, but there was loin of venison. Perversely, I chose the rib-eye steak which was done just as I had requested. It was juicy, tender and packed a big punch of chargrilled flavour. Bearnaise Sauce, fat chips and roast baby tomatoes came on the side. Subtly spiced belly of pork from Gloucester Old Spot pigs was really soft and unctuous. Personally, I find garnishes like clams and chorizo a bit of a distraction, but my guest seemed to enjoy it all. Every restaurant you go to, especially Gastro pubs, is serving slow cooked belly of pork. Makes you wonder where the rest of the animal has ended up now that belly of pork is the new lamb shank. Thinks: perhaps lamb shanks have returned to their normal price? But somehow I doubt it.

Puddings are sensibly few and reassuringly British. My apple and blackberry crumble was just like grandma's, except for the custard which was a bit pale and poncey. Grandma’s crumble was great, by the way! And her Bird’s custard was beacon yellow and comfortingly thick. Baked bananas with custard ice cream sounded interesting, but next time I come it'll have to be the treacle tart with clotted cream.

The service at Northbank was both friendly and professional, as one would expect given that the boss is running the front of house! The only glitch came when we were about to leave. The cloakroom area needs more light - the sight of the waiting staff and myself blundering around trying to find my coat in near darkness was almost enough to bring smiles to the faces of some nearby hedge fund managers who were bravely trying to console themselves after a difficult day at the screens (mostly red).

If the current financial market ‘correction’ is only a relative blip, I'm sure Northbank will do well, it certainly deserves to.

The cost of your meal.
Starters: £5.0 to £8.50; mains £13.50 to £17.50; puddings £5.00

Set lunch menu - also pre-theatre 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday - two courses £13.50, three courses £17.50 Lunch only available on Sundays.

Northbank Restaurant and Bar, One Paul's Walk, London EC4V 3QH

Reservations on; 0207 329 9299

Cliffford Mould February 2008


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