o mark the first vaguely spring-like evening of the year, we booked ourselves onto a brand new culinary walking tour of the South Bank. And why not?
With a printout map of a route curated by a team called Walking Dinners, we trotted along the Thames, stopping off at three unlikely-to stumble-upon restaurants, for a course and glass of wine at each. This was all interspersed with a saunter – if we keep to our timings, or brisk stride if not – down one of London’s most enchanting walkways.
Part of a Europe-wide operation – with routes in the likes of Antwerp and Lisbon – this is the second time the WD team have organised a trio of stop-offs in London. The sister amble is in Westminster – swinging past the likes of Buckingham Palace and Downing Street to gawp (or jeer) at in between courses. Despite the South Bank’s recent recruitment to the team’s roster, the operation’s slick and the route’s been meticulously planned.
First stop was Brasserie Joël, which nestles into the granite interiors of the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge Hotel’s first floor foyer. Dodging Ferraris on our way in, we sheepishly admitted that perhaps we should have put a little more effort into our outfits, or at the least, a lick of polish on our Docs.
We were greeted in the dimly lit glamour of the brasserie with a glass of prosecco. There was an air of sordid-affair-in-hotel-bar about it all, as jazz twinkled on speakers in the background and slightly stuffy, overly cordial staff, manoeuvred around us – perhaps to be expected in a place with six-figure-cars parked out front.
The food arrived soon after we selected from a compact menu of starters. A generous portion of palm-sized, pasty raviolis came carrying a dollop of porcini mushrooms enmeshed in velvety ricotta and doused in chestnut cream.
Nearing the end of the dish, glasses empty, conversation in full-flow, it was all brought to a halt by a slightly jarring time-check. Our designated forty minutes was up and we had to peg it to our beckoning main course.We swiftly plucked out our nostalgic printout map, and felt like we were heading on a riverside treasure hunt.
To the Thames we charged. A quick nod to the lights of Parliament twinkling on the waterway, we pelted past men playing saxophones to an audience of none, mulled wine pop-ups circled with tables and rip roaring fires. We suppressed the almost irresistible urge to stop and bask in the majesty of this iconic strip.
We veered off the river just after the heaving Royal Festival Hall, weaving under the Southbank’s colossal concrete façade.
Our hurtling aside, we arrived at Belvedere Road’s Brasserie Blanc only slightly behind schedule. No one seemed to mind: the venues are presumably a little more lax on those booked under Walking Dinner, empathetic to how easy it is to get held-up by the previous course or lost to the riverside’s nocturnal splendour.
Raymond Blanc’s Brasserie had more of a homely French farmhouse feel than hotel lounge. The food was less impressive than our previous course: a fillet of lightly smoked grilled salmon came a little overdone – too dry in parts. But it was lifted by the smoky moist skin that sat on top, and matched with a bowl of effortlessly flung-back fries with a tomato béarnaise ready for the dunking.
As we sunk our second glass of wine we noted that the shifting in location would make this an ideal activity for team bonding, with constant and natural reshuffling of conversation partner throughout the evening. The primary walking diners are date-nighters though.
With a healthy hour and a half for dinner, it was time to prize our slightly crumpled map from our pockets and head off again, this time embarking on the longest segment of walk.
With more time on our side, we flipped through the map to find a little fact-pack. Guess this is an opportunity to woo that special someone with some antiquated South Bank goss. The weight of the London Eye (2100 tonnes) perhaps, when the Waterloo Bridge was built (1817) or maybe the meat-hauling origins of the OXO Tower: just some of the many informative but far from lust-inducing trivia (although perhaps you beg to differ?)
Past the skate park, the BFI and crossing over at the Doggett’s pub, we headed to St Paul’s for steakhouse-cum-dessert stop Omnini. It was half nine on midweek evening and the riverside was quiet now, providing space to absorb the glistening, tranquility of the Thames.At Omnino’s, feeling rejuvenated after our 40-minute walk, we arrived to teams of post-ribeye diners lining the subterranean venue.
It’s a very multi-textured place: red leather chairs, marble pillars, bare brick and wood-tiled walls. Two courses in, we were slightly more drawn to the glass of wine than the dessert, but we picked at an air-light passion-fruit mousse drizzled in summer fruits as a saccharine finish.
It struck us during this course how good for ya buck the whole experience is: just under £60 for a three-course meal, three drinks, all sewn together with a priceless, pre-determined roam along the Thames. This seems to be the ideal way for visitors to see the city on a fleeting trip to London or perhaps an opportunity for locals to revisit the South Bank and see it in a new, fact-pack-assisted light.
Just make sure you stick to the route and don’t get lured in by the area’s many charms. Mulled wine and a saxophone man are all very well and good – but that stomach will be rumbling if you fall off-track an hour in.
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