By Jonathan Hatchman, Food Editor, @TLE_Food
Just in time for the celebration of the restaurant’s 25th anniversary next year, Le Pont de la Tour located at Shad Thames and famed for its fine French food has recently undergone refurbishment. First opened at the beginning of the 1990s by Sir Terence Conran, the restaurant is now owned by D&D London – the group behind some great London restaurants such as Plateau, Restaurant Sauterelle – which has also recently reopened – and Michelin-starred Angler.
Split into two main components, an impressive bar greets visitors, comprising a strong emphasis on cocktails that are inspired by the former Victoria warehouse complex and ingredients that would have been stored within. In fact, having arrived early for our early evening booking we begin with a drink and a chance to sample some of the bar snacks – mainly candied nuts and olives, although a selection of small plates are also available for non-diners. ‘Tea Trade Wharf’ mixes vodka-infused sencha tea with lemon, elderflower and matcha green tea and embraces a spirulina shade of green. Meanwhile the ‘Vanilla & Sesame Court’ combines a number of flavours that seem unsuited to a drink that’s not purely medicinal (vodka washed and roasted cashew nuts, sesame oil, lemon, honey, and vanilla foam), but the taste is surprisingly pleasant. Our waiter even delivers a spoon, on second thought, encouraging me to completely finish the foam as a strange sort of pre-dinner dessert.
The second of the two rooms is the large dining space that has been overhauled by Russell Sage Studio. Alas, the main focus here is the view of the river that’s just feet away from the window, overlooking the eponymous port of Tower Bridge in all of its illuminated majesty. The view also lends the feeling of being afloat as the moored boats bob along with the tide. Therefore, the restaurant’s expensive facelift does seem unnecessary given that the main focal point is the space’s floor-to-ceiling windows, alike many of the city’s restaurants with a view. As well as the re-decoration, a brand new head chef has also been drafted into the kitchen; none other than acclaimed chef Frederick Forster from Boundary – Shoreditch’s most beloved French restaurant. And as a matter of fact, the new menu’s focus is on simplicity, focusing hugely on the ingredients and indulgent French classics that demonstrate skill albeit without unwarranted pretension.
To start, it’s very rare that a menu will include a choice so wonderful that I’m torn between literally everything that’s on offer. So after the waitress arrives for the third time to find out whether I’ve taken it upon my self to decide just yet, I beg her to choose for me. As a result, one of the two foie gras dishes is suggested – a slab of pan seared liver that’s served with a sweet, harmonious black fig and a subtle reduction of madeira and balsamic. It’s extraordinarily luxurious, yet not the most expensive dish on the starters menu, which comes as a surprise being that so many waiting staff members are ostensibly trained to sell the most ludicrously expensive of dishes. Usually, given the choice I’d opt for a terrine – which is available – but the pan-seared choice is resplendently brilliant; simplicity at its best.
Unable to decide once again, the waitress suggests the loin of venison for my main – a delicious winter treat. Served pink exactly as it’s ordered, the meat is very, very good. The surprising accompaniment of creamy pomme puree laced with rich, shredded neck meat is in fact the best thing that passed my lips on that evening. Unfortunately, the poached quince is an unwelcome guest to the plate of rich gamey deer; a sharp berry would’ve been far more satisfactory. My girlfriend’s halibut dish is also a success, prizing a sizeable tranche of the delicious fish accompanied by modest shoots of deep purple broccoli – far too often the colour is lost in the pan – and small slivers of cuttlefish that don’t lend much to the dish but are well-cooked, all the same.
To complete our experience at Le Pont de la Tour, the dessert menu is also plentiful and overflowing with decadent choices. In true spirit of respecting the French theme, we opt for the Rum Baba, which lacks the sticky and sweet warmth of others I’ve eaten and is thus underwhelming following the first two courses. Crêpes Suzettes, prepared in the centre of the restaurant to add a little dinner theatre, are much better. They’re cooked in an outrageously vast slab of butter, but what else would you expect from a restaurant dedicated to classic French cuisine? Besides, the taste of the boozy, orange-soaked pancakes is absolutely divine.
Le Pont de la Tour can be found at 36G Shad Thames, London, SE1 2YE.