Eating, drinking and shopping on the Southbank
Royal Festival Hall is back and better than ever. Here's your guide to eating, drinking and shopping on the Southbank
Eating and Drinking
Caffè VergnanoWhen fearsome chef Gordon Ramsay sings the praises of a café (eulogising its coffee as ‘remarkably sublime’), we can consider it something of a safe bet. Caffè Vergnano has earned both these votes of confidence by serving up its 1882 coffee blend to perfection from its Leicester Square venue. You can expect the same level of service from this second and much bigger outlet at Southbank Centre; that means aromatic and full-bodied espresso with a silky ‘crema’, dispensed from a gleaming Elektra espresso machine, pristinely served on an Armani tray (no less), and a glass of water to accompany. An experience for the true coffee connoisseur. As well as great coffee, the new branch includes an Italian bar and restaurant.Festival Terrace (020 8922 6308). Open Mon-Fri 8am-8pm; Sat 9am-10pm; Sun 11am-7pm.
CanteenAfter the success of its Spitalfields dining room, serving high quality British comfort food in slick surroundings, Canteen is branching out with its first offshoot in the Royal Festival Hall. The menu and aesthetic are the same as the original, with an all-day menu that includes breakfasts and afternoon teas, and seating at long communal tables and intimate booths. However, the new branch is significantly bigger (260 covers), with plenty of outdoor seating spilling out into the newly landscaped Southbank Centre Square. There is also a dedicated bar area focusing on British beers, with a generous selection from Greenwich’s Meantime Brewery.Southbank Centre Square (0845 686 1122). Open (from first week in June) Mon-Fri 8am-12midnight; Sat-Sun 9am-12midnight.
EAT.EAT. is perfect for those seeking fast, but not fried, food. With offerings ranging from wholemeal sandwiches with chicken breast and pesto, to snack packs of sushi and salads, there’s plenty to satisfy visitors wanting an impromptu picnic on the riverside. Soup and sandwich specials change regularly, meaning it’s also a regular lunch staple for many who work in the area.Festival Riverside (020 7401 2989). Open Mon-Fri 8am-9pm; Sat 10am-9pm; Sun 10am-8pm.
Feng SushiA new branch of this sushi restaurant – which has already made waves in Kensington, Borough Market, Chalk Farm, Notting Hill and Fulham – opens around June 8 on Festival Terrace.
GiraffeThis popular family restaurant offers lively but relaxed dining from a reasonably priced menu that plucks dishes from all over the world – there’s a flavoursome collision of Tex-Mex burritos, Vietnamese curries, colourful salads and barbecued chicken with spicy salsa. For waist-watchers, there are plenty of healthy choices, including exotic smoothies, and a good provision of kids’ options. If desserts like a white chocolate and Toblerone cheesecake don’t keep your offspring happy, staff can usually be prevailed upon to furnish them with some crayons and a paper place mat to draw on, while you take refuge in a zesty cocktail or a glass of South African red. That’s not to say the place is the preserve of families – it’s also popular with after-work drinkers, and many a quiet couple have taken the opportunity to enjoy blueberry pancakes for breakfast, with a glittering view of the sun rising over the Thames.Festival Riverside (020 7928 2004). Open Mon-Fri 8am-10.45pm; Sat 9am-10pm; Sun 10am-10.45pm.
Las IguanasBringing a touch of Latin America to Southbank Centre, Las Iguanas serves up a zesty blend of Brazilian tapas, tortillas, steaks and chimichangas. Although the seasoned meatballs, casquinha (crab-dressed tortillas) and steak fajitas are well worth working up an appetite for, the big draw of Las Iguanas is its Cachaçaria, which serves up some of the most authentic caipirinhas in London. These are made with the company’s own self-produced cachaça, from its own sugar plantation in Rio, poured over flakes of crisp ice and fresh limes. A Bacardi Breezer it ain’t.Festival Terrace (020 7620 1328). Open Mon-Wed, Sun 11.30am-11pm; Thur-Sat 11.30am-11.30pm.
Le Pain QuotidienYou will smell this bakery before you see it, as the aroma of handmade loaves, baguettes and pastries drifts out to the Festival Terrace. As well as its baked goods, all made using good old-fashioned French techniques, Le Pain Quotidien serves up fresh, crunchy sandwiches, light salads and tartines in rustic surroundings. Whether you fill your wicker basket with artisanal loaves, or curl up with a pain au raisin and coffee for your breakfast, it’s worth making this little patisserie a daily habit.Festival Terrace (020 7486 6154). Open Mon-Fri 8am-11pm; Sat 8am-11pm; Sun 9am-10pm.
Ping PongA welcome addition to Southbank Centre’s gastronomic scene, Ping Pong provides a fun way to be fed. Upon entering, you are given a long list of tantalising dim sum, from which you and your dining companions tick your favourites. Be warned: they are more filling than they look, so three to four per person is plenty. Your choices arrive swiftly, neatly presented with side plates so that you can all squabble over the selection. The surroundings are slick and chic, and, perhaps unusually for a dim sum house, the cocktails are incredibly good, made with freshly squeezed tropical juices. To round your meal off, try one of the in-house teas, such as the jasmine, which magically evolves from dry flakes into burgeoning blossom before your eyes.Festival Terrace (020 7960 4160). Open Mon-Wed 12noon-12midnight; Thur-Sat 12noon-1am; Sun 12noon-10.30pm.
BarThe bar and café in the Queen Elizabath Hall foyer serve up a good selection of teas, coffees and fresh juices along with a range of homemade cakes, pastries, sandwiches and salads. Interval drinks orders – from a selection of wines and cold beers – are welcomed.Queen Elizabeth Hall (020 7921 0758). Café open daily 10am-9pm.
Central Bar on Level 2, Green Bar and Blue Bar on Level 4, Balcony Bar on Level 5, Members’ Bar on Level 6The Grade 1-listed Central Bar is complemented by six other bars within the Festival Hall. The Balcony Bar and Members’ Bar offer spectacular terraces and views over the Thames.Royal Festival Hall. Bars open Mon-Sat 11am-11pm; Sun 12noon-10.30pm.
Riverside Terrace CaféA quick-service bakery offering soup, cakes and light meals.Level 2, Royal Festival Hall. Open Mon-Sat 6am-9pm; Sun 10am-9pm.
StarbucksThe place for drinkers who know their macchiatos from their mochas, and like their frappuccinos with extra cream. Service is quick, the choice is vast, and the café is conveniently located by The Hayward – so you can prepare yourself for a particularly mind-bending exhibition with a stiff double espresso.The Hayward (020 7261 1652). Open gallery hours during exhibitions, Mon-Fri 8am-6pm when no exhibition.
StradaStrada is a chain with a few differences: its authentic pizzas, pastas, and Italian mains are of a consistently high standard, and service is thoughtful and efficient – meaning each restaurant has the cosy, comfortable feel of a local trattoria rather than a brand. It’s the little details that set Strada apart; complimentary bottled water in frosted glass decanters is placed on each table and replenished automatically, appetisers like olives and pesto bread are rustically presented and tasty, while pizzas are cooked in wood-fired ovens. Prices are good – pizzas are around £8, while a fish dish is around £10, and the restaurant is ideally placed alongside the river.Festival Riverside (020 7401 9126). Open Mon-Fri 12noon-11pm; Sat 11am-11pm; Sun 11am-10.30pm.
SkylonTaking its name from the most iconic structure of the 1951 Festival of Britain, Skylon is a new venture in the heart of Southbank Centre that’s both destination restaurant and informal grill. With each section’s modern European menu created by executive chef Helena Puolakka, formerly of Harvey Nichols’ Fifth Floor restaurant, you can feast on the likes of butter-poached lobster in the former, and the more homely likes of omelette with Yorkshire ham, gruyère and baby tomatoes in the latter. A carefully selected wine list spans the globe and includes some splendid English bottles, as well as a few 1950s reserve wines, inspired by Southbank Centre’s postwar origins.Royal Festival Hall (020 7654 7800). Restaurant open daily 12noon-2.30pm, 5.30pm-10.45pm. Grill open daily 12noon-11.45pm. Bar open daily 11am-1am.
WagamamaAlthough ther are no bookings, you will be seated more or less immediately, fed shortly after, and be presented with your extremely reasonable bill as soon as you are ready to leave. Dining is communal, with clean, long tables accommodating several groups at a time. The menu is Asian, with light noodle soups dotted with fish or vegetables, thick coconut broths, and coriander-rich curries. Try the salted edamame beans, or the perfectly crisped dumplings. The drinks choice is simple, with refreshing and zingy juices , a short wine list and Japanese beers, plus some bombastic saké.Festival Riverside (020 7021 0877). Open Mon-Thur 12noon-11pm; Fri, Sat, 12noon-12midnight; Sun 12noon-10pm.
Southbank Centre Shop
FoylesThis smaller outpost of the Charing Cross Road institution is the ideal place to while away some time before a show or find a volume to enjoy on the riverside promenade. With shelves piled high with over 30,000 titles, it has an excellent selection of non-fiction, coffee-table books and magazines, as well as all the latest bestsellers and classics. Readings and signings with popular literary figures also regularly take place in store – phone for the latest line-up.Festival Riverside (020 7437 5660). Open Mon-Sun 10am-10pm.
MDC Music and MoviesThis slick-looking music and movies shop is sensually a world away from the West End media superstores; the shop itself is airy and pristine, the selection educated and insightful, the soundtrack tinkling and classical. You might walk in for the exclusive recordings of classical, jazz, world music, opera and ballet, but you could well walk out with one of the phenomenal special offer box-sets that are MDC’s trademark – typical deals include Bach’s The Complete Sacred Cantatas reduced from £479.99 to £99. It’s this sort of product range that attracts connoisseurs as much as humble browsers to MDC.Festival Riverside (020 7620 0198). Open 10am-10pm.
Southbank Centre Book MarketSprawling alongside the Thames, opposite BFI Southbank, is this much-loved bargain books market. With volumes neatly divided into categories, and most selling for under half their original retail value, it is easy to waste an afternoon browsing among the many tables. Here, too, is a selection of antiquarian prints, first editions, signed editions and specialist magazines, meaning early comers can secure some real finds. The market is here every day, though the open air surroundings and fragility of the books means inclement weather can cause closure.Opposite BFI Southbank (020 8556 4899). Open daily 10.30am-6pm (summer), 12noon-5.30pm (winter).
Southbank Centre ShopNot your usual staid gift shop, this is packed with fun, stylish and unusual products. Highlights include a colour-it-yourself edition of ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’, cerebral fridge magnets and quirky stationery. Abandoning all things tack in favour of stylish homewares and accessories, the buyers have selected Lucienne Day tea towels and reconditioned Robin Day chairs alongside items by a host of new designers. In doing so, they’ve managed to link their product range to Southbank Centre’s constituent parts – art, design, music, and performance – without resorting to cheesy mugs and T-shirts.Festival Terrace (020 7921 0771). Open Mon-Fri 10am-10pm, Sun & Bank hols 10am-8pm. There are also additional outlets inside Royal Festival Hall and The Hayward.News kiosks can be found on Festival Terrace and Queens Walk.
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