By Shilpa Ganatra, Travel Editor, @TLE_Travel
Over a decade ago, when I were a lass studying at LSE, no student wanted the Bankside halls of residence. They were one of the newest and nicest, but it didn’t make up for the tumbleweed blowing through its SE1 postcode. Now, it’s a different matter.
Aided by an influx of businesses, the Southwark area is in the midst of a rebirth. It boasts the best Nandos in London, some fantastic lunch restaurants and an above-average amount of hotels, the newest of which is the Hilton. Hoping to catch in on power lunches, post-work pints and the tourists-staying-local crowd, they’ve put extra effort into making their bar, The Distillery, and restaurant – OXBO – inviting enough to be considered more than a hotel restaurant/bar. So after a peruse around the nearby Tate Modern, I headed over to OXBO for a leisurely lunch.
The urban-chic restaurant itself suggests a break from the Hilton brand and an entity in its own right. The warm, dark wooden and steel surrounds is a hark back to Southwark’s industrial roots; it even contains reclaimed materials from its former ground. But it’s also contemporary; the set-back location affords it swathes of space between tables, decorations are tasteful and high-quality, and there’s even room for quirkiness, with its walls adorned with mounted animal heads. It’s a reminder that this is a meat-lover’s haunt, with meats cooked in their Josper grill a specialty.
But first we do as the name suggests with the starters. There’s a broad selection of 10, from a light serving of Dorset snails (£10), served with prosciutto and sourdough to a simple Ceaser salad (£8), to my choice of pumpkin soup (£7), which was flavourful and served with a fun onion bhaji and an indulgent dash of cream. The wine list was equally extensive, so much so that the only way to possibly navigate was getting our waiter to pass on a little of his knowledge. The recommendation was the 2014 Portillo Malbec, which was exactly what I’d asked for: a smooth, fruity red with a quiet finish. It went well with both mains: Aberdeen Angus steak (£36), and the Borough Market Portobello mushrooms (£18) – tempting as they were sourced just down the road.
After being prepared behind the open kitchen, both were excellent in different ways; the steak was tender, served exactly as asked for (medium rare if you’re asking) and had an added depth, being cooked in the Josper grill. The veggie option was no afterthought; the vegetables still had bite and were drenched in buttery oils that made in less healthy than one might suspect. With a side of chips (the skin-on, crispy kind) dessert was almost too much to consider. Almost, But who can say no to a chocolate terrine? (£7) With layers of ganache, biscuit, creamy chocolate and a mandarin sorbet to counter the richness, it was a perfect ending to a top-notch meal.
Exiting through the Hilton’s reception, it took a while to recollect that I’d just been to a hotel restaurant; I’d expected to stumble straight out onto the gourmet haven of Marylebone – but I won’t forget on my return.
OXBO can be found at the Hilton London Bankside, 2-8 Great Suffolk Street, London, SE1 0UG.