The Living Room, Tower Bridge
This is not, I have to confess, the kind of place I usually find myself in. As far as I can tell, Tower Bridge is where people who don’t really know London go for a bit of a day out, some overpriced dinner and a trough-load of artificial alcopop booze on a Saturday night. Just looking at the selection of eateries in this part of St Katharine Docks confirms this impression: Strada, Café Rouge… the usual suspects. But amongst all these depressing chain restaurants, there is a surprise to be had. In a good way.
The Living Room may not look like much – a slightly more snazzily lit All Bar One, with a grand piano – but once you’re inside, sheesh, are you in for a treat. The first clue that this isn’t the normal Stella and chips joint is the wine list, which is not only unusual and innovative but clear and well-priced too, with plenty of options by the glass. We plump for something I’ve never even heard of before: a South Australian blend of Gewurtztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris – Knappstein’s aptly named ‘Three’, at £24.15. It’s weird, but brilliant. You can taste each grape variety perfectly – each mouthful moving from minerality through gentle acidity towards a rounded lavender finish. Delightful, and unlike anything I’ve drunk before, I think.
And then the food. The menu is an odd combination of trad comfort food – scampi, lasagne, beef and ale pie, burgers, steaks, fish and chips – with a range of Asian influences: lots of seafood starters with sweet chilli sauce, tandoori sea bass, a couple of curries. It sort of seems like they’re trying to do too much, but given that every dish that we sampled was executed absolutely perfectly, perhaps too much is just about right.
I kick off by being difficult and asking for one of the ‘lighter meals’ as a starter. I’m accommodated with a friendly smile, and my pork belly, bok choi and noodle salad (£7.95) is excellent. Crisp, light, full of zing and zest and depth of flavour, it’s better than most of the Vietnamese on Kingsland Road that all the hipsters rave about. My companion – esteemed founder of the New London Cocktail Review – opts for a starter of scallops, chorizo, potato and baby plum tomatoes (£8.25). It seems like a weird combination, but again it works: the flavours blurring and bouncing off each other expertly.
She orders more fishiness for the main course – mackerel with cod cheek, pancetta and leeks in a Pernod cream sauce (£11.75). This is the kind of dish that could go badly wrong – I mean, has anyone used Pernod since Keith Floyd snuffed it? – but again it works well, with everything executed expertly, and the flavours complementing each other gently. I go boring and order the rib-eye steak (£17.75). With excellent chips, tomato, salad, field mushroom and a choice of sauces (béarnaise for me), it’s a pretty sizeable dish – perhaps a little too sizeable. But the beef is flavoursome and cooked right (blue) so I’m not complaining.
Afterwards I’m persuaded into sharing the Eton Mess, which is great (although I didn’t taste much of the Pimm’s in the Pimm’s-soaked strawberries) and then we finish things off with a couple of cocktails. Even after all this I wasn’t expecting much, but they were both exceptional. My Negroni packed exactly the kind of punch that Negronis should, whilst remaining well balanced – with no single flavour dominating the others. With some choice tunes playing around us – Aloe Blacc’s ‘I Need a Dollar’ among them – it’s a surprisingly perfect end to a surprisingly excellent evening.