Dining rooms with views are guaranteed to disappoint, aren't they? Though perhaps I should hold my tongue until I've tried Galvin at Windows Restaurant, purported to be an exception to the rule. Horridly overpriced, made to cater for tourists, and passing trade with more money than taste, they seldom display culinary expertise.
A 9-to-5 resident of The Strand, I regularly head north for proper sustenance, to Soho and beyond, the Thames and South Bank being instead a refuge for boozy summer evenings in riverside watering holes, when food consists of bar snacks at best.
A friend had waxed lyrical about the bar at Skylon, located within the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank, overlooking the river. Hanging out with an old uni mate on the South Bank, we decided to give the Skylon Grill a try, for a lazy lunch (supposedly less formal and better value than the restaurant).
The menu is instantly forgettable: bland modern European brasserie fare, at ridiculous prices, much like - possibly worse than - the Portrait Restaurant at the top of the National Portrait Gallery. Mushroom gnocchi at £14, what a joke. To steal Lisa Markwell's phrase from her recent review of Petrus in the Independent: 'it has the distinct feeling of an operation that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing'.
Uninspired, and struggling to choose, we were asked by three different waitresses whether we were ready to order: none of them seemed dedicated to a particular dining area, but rather aimlessly wandered around, looking bored or gossiping (they clearly tired of the impressive view long ago).
On to the food:
Pumpkin tortelloni with confit tomato, wild rocket and shaved pecorino: £15. 10 pieces of mediocre filled pasta, and the chef forgot the promised shavings of pecorino, and deemed it acceptable to place just one poor, lonely tomato (nothing 'confit' about it, by the way) on the dish. Lame.
Jo came off a little better with the Sunday roast - rib of beef with Yorkshire pudding, and roasted veg: £17.50. The beef was agreeably tender and rare, but rather tasteless. At least the serving was generous, and the Yorkshire puddings crispy.
Greens: £3.50. Again, forgettable.
Chocolate and pear tart with Guinness ice cream: £6.50. The worst part of the meal. The ice cream was a miserable scoop of defrosting water crystals, in which I couldn't detect dairy products, let alone a treacly hint of hops. The chocolate tart was bland, the pastry thick and soggy, and the poached pears on top even blander. How they could feel proud enough of this dessert to decorate the plate with a pointless line of the same bland chocolate and a half-hearted sprinkling of icing sugar, I don't know.
If the cocktails are as lackluster and overpriced as the food, I wouldn't bother. Just enjoy a cold beer on the terrace a floor below Skylon, or head to the buzzy Benugo Bar in the BFI building for a 'pint' of hot sausage rolls.