With Christmas fast approaching, the weather getting colder and the days shorter, London is seeing no shortage of festive dining experiences. Most restaurants and pubs will be offering some sort of Christmas menu, but there are venues that go even further.
Returning for its sixth year, Jimmy Garcia’s Lodge on the River is one of these venues. Situated outside the Southbank Centre this pop up is a sum of four parts: Snow globe-style igloos offering private dining for up to 10 guests, lavishly furnished by made.com; The Refuge – a shipping container transformed into an intimate apres-ski dining experience; Alpine Bar: an outside bar serving hot cocktails; and a Chalet Snack bar which serves festive street food to tuck into as you stroll along the Southbank.
The Refuge offers three sittings throughout the day (lunch, pre-theatre and dinner), each presenting a £45pp set menu based around a sharing concept main course. For our evening sitting, we’re joined by what seems to be an office Christmas party, a girls’ night out and a handful of couples, all enjoying the cosy, fairy light-clad atmosphere. The venue is intimate, with just three servers and a no more than 20 guests. Thanks to the small numbers, the service is quick and friendly, with the right amounts of attentiveness and privacy.
I’ve invited a friend who is celebrating her birthday in the same week and I’m hoping that the evening will be a lovely way to kick off the festivities. My hopes are completely fulfilled throughout. The set menu offers a choice of starter each, a main and sides that we’ll share and a set dessert. To start, we opt for smoked Scottish venison tartare and Le Latteria Burrata. The Burrata, imported directly from Italy, is perfectly creamy. Served with coal baked squash, toasted pumpkin seeds and lovage gremolata, it’s a light and refreshing starter for what promises to be a rich, luxurious meal.
The choice of sharing main course is something we struggle over for some time. Not because of any potential issues, but for a lack thereof. Each of the three options sounds magnificent. Consider: traditional alpine fondue (a vegan mushroom-based fondue also available) served with mixed charcuterie imported by Jimmy Garcia’s father in Spain; a Steak Sharer, 600g flat iron steak cooked on a hot stone (upgrade to ribeye for £12pp); and the Ultimate Winter Warmer, a whole baked Mont d’Or and 400g flat iron steak (supplement £12pp) I can’t see how anyone would find this choice easy.
In the end, we decide we want the best of both worlds (meat and cheese) and pick the Ultimate Winter Warmer. Very quickly, our tiny table is heaving under the weight food and it just keeps coming. The pleasingly gooey Mont d’Or and flat iron steak (cooked on a hot stone at the table, so that you can decide precisely when it is to your liking) take centre stage, but there are also venison and red wine sausages, new potatoes (chips also available), mixed leaf salad, sourdough baguette as well as confit garlic mayonnaise and both chimichurri and peppercorn sauces.
I’m exhausted just listing the dishes, but I can guarantee you not one of these is out of place. The steak is of top quality, melting in the mouth and (despite my initial scepticism) requiring nothing more than a standard cutlery knife. The sourdough baguette is fluffy on the inside, with a nice crunch to its crust: a perfect vessel for the melting cheese. Each sauce is made well, though (in my opinion) the steak doesn’t need any of them – it’s delicious on its own.If I am picking faults, we’d benefit from a larger table.
The dessert (no choices here) is a 70 percent dark chocolate tart with cherries macerated in kirsch and crème fraiche. It’s a rich dessert, perhaps a little over set, that neither of us feel the need to finish. Something a little lighter would have worked better after the weight of the main course. That said, I can see how the dark chocolate would sit well with the chilly November night for any chocolate lovers.
One thing that doesn’t sit quite as well with me is that the venue doesn’t have lavatories. When I ask, I’m directed to the nearby Royal Festival Hall. Sure, it’s practically next door, but you should count on a 10-minute round trip each time. We’re lucky that the weather isn’t too chilly yet, but I suspect that in the middle of the winter, each trip might be a bit of nuisance. Don’t forget to wrap up warm!
Despite this hiccup, the evening is a complete success and we leave with my friend already planning a return visit with her fiancé.
Header photo: Ben Carpenter
Jimmy Garcia’s Lodge on the River can be found at Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX.