The best restaurants near South Bank and Waterloo
Many of Yotam Ottolenghi’s one-time cooks are doing it for themselves these days – witness this clubby Tel Aviv-style rendezvous from chef Eran Tibi. Set in a Southwark railway arch, Bala Baya is a bakery, a fast-paced pitta kiosk at lunchtime and a buzzy restaurant in the evenings. Come here for astonishing little Middle Eastern-inspired dishes such as tea-smoked, yoghurt-injected ‘aubergine tea’. We warned you!
A converted shipping container plastered with artwork by Shuby, this branch of bright and breezy Beany Green sits outside the Royal Festival Hall, just under Hungerford Bridge. Early doors, it’s all about Aussie coffee, homemade banana bread and a host of sunny brunch delights, while evenings mean cocktails, wines from Down Under and a fistful of local craft beers on tap.
A long-time favourite, the Blueprint Café would be a destination for its setting alone: huge windows look out over the Thames and Tower Bridge, while a retractable canopy lends a great inside/outside feel to the dining room (it is part of The Design Museum, after all). The kitchen deals in Brit-accented seasonal dishes that are beautiful to behold, but never twee – as in sea bream fillet with romesco, padrón peppers and leeks.
Cracking riverside views are just one of the assets at this outlet from D&D London: Tower Bridge is just a stroll away and the alfresco terrace is even furnished with rubber rings. Food-wise, it’s all about doughty British meat – from charcuterie, chops and cutlets to Aberdeen angus steaks, which are flashed and sizzled on the charcoal grill. Comforting nursery puds too.
As you’d expect, the food at this branch of Caravan is sound – with a globally peripatetic menu reaching well beyond the chain’s beloved Antipodes. Breakfast, brunch, snacks and full-on blowouts are all accommodated in a lofty, cavernous space that looks marvellous with its stripped wood and metal girders. It’s also worth remembering that Caravan’s founders were renowned coffee roasters before they became fusion-fare hawkers.
Batik textiles, colourful masks, incense and acres of carved teak spell exotic romance at this self-styled ‘Thai-Malay’ favourite – book the private table à deux on the mezzanine if you’re feeling flirty. To eat, inventive vegan and veggie dishes sit alongside hawker (street food market) classics, curries and east-west mash-ups such as red snapper with Malaysian sambal and squid-ink linguine (the restaurant’s name means ‘mix and match’).
Sizzling steaks and sustainably sourced fish cooked over coals are the headliners at this London offshoot of Brighton’s Coal Shed – a handsome space of smoky mirrors, metal and dark wood, with a jazzy laid-back soundtrack as accompaniment. Although the big plates hold centre-stage, don’t ignore their memorable smaller cousins (short-rib croquettes with punchy gochujang mayo, for example). Brilliant service seals the deal.
Venue says Celebrate in our private dining room with a delicious feasting menu!
You wouldn’t guess it, but this shiny all-day diner is actually the main restaurant for the Park Plaza Waterloo next door – and it’s a real treat. Our advice is to plunder their dizzying line-up of egg dishes (ostrich in season!) or hit the flatbreads – lamb with chilli, parley and tzatziki, perhaps. Otherwise, cherry-pick from the salads, pasta and burgers, with British wines and BrewDog beers on hand for refreshment.
Named after the eighteenth-century satirist James Gillray (whose works appear on the dining room walls), this good-looking venue sports some spectacular river views from its pitch within the London Marriott Hotel County Hall. As you’d expect, it’s mostly about steak here – T-bones, fillets, sirloins and a daunting ‘bull’s head’ (1kg of butterflied prime-rib) – although Barnsley chops, burgers and BBQ ribs also get whacked on the grill.
A flashy Tower Bridge sequel to the small-plates Indian joint behind Spitalfields Market, this branch of Gunpowder is an equally explosive proposition for fans of Madras-style chicken lollipops, chutney cheese sarnies, Kerala beef pepper fry and Old Monk rum pudding. It may look slicker than its pokey home-style sibling, but this place is affordable, fun, delicious and mouth-wateringly addictive. And they take bookings.
Eating well at the National isn’t a problem, thanks to House – its gastronomic pride and joy, located within strolling distance of the stalls. The expansive room lends gravitas to proceedings and the kitchen shows bags of ambition with its dainty conceits and comforting platefuls. We’re talking about crumbed bream with sardine ketchup, turnips and cider onions or smoked and confit mallard with parsley root and prunes.
Part of the Ivy’s ongoing roll-out, this casual brasserie is a perfect fit for the gleaming One Tower Bridge development. Terrific views of the river are a given and there’s a Parisian-style terrace for those who want to do things alfresco. Inside, trademark Ivy interiors provide the backdrop for an all-day menu that mixes old faves (shepherd’s pie, crispy duck salad) with more inventive ideas.
The folks at D&D London are all over it when it comes to dress-to-impress London dining. As well as sweeping views of Tower Bridge and beyond, this smartly refurbished riverside beauty touts a sought-after terrace, a conventional brasserie-style Bar & Grill and a posh restaurant majoring in elaborately plated modern dishes with an Anglo-French flavour – fruits de mer, tournedos rossini, mustard-glazed pork collar, tarte tatin.
Eight floors up above the South Bank, Oxo Tower’s in-house restaurant, brasserie and bar certainly emanate a sense of occasion. A glass frontage makes the most of the river views, while tables on the terrace (first come, first served) allow you to fully appreciate the panoramic cityscapes. The brasserie is our top pick, with its casual vibe, live jazz in the evening and well-crafted menu of contemporary European food.
It’s only open during the summer months, but you’d be hard pressed to find a prettier setting for a lunchtime sandwich in central London than this rooftop allotment/woodland/wildflower meadow by the sunny South Bank. Don’t come here expecting a blowout or a fry-up; instead, the short menu of light salads, snacks, cakes and cocktails suits the mood of civilised contentment.
Occupying a cosseted world of its own beside the South Bank’s arty agglomerations, RSJ ’s gentle, understated decor is perfect for relaxed lunches and pre-/post-theatre get-togethers. The French-accented food consistently displays high levels of skill and refinement, although the real joy here is the unparalleled list of wines from the Loire Valley. Fear not, tuned-in staff will make sure you get out in time for the show.
Looking for a stylish Thames-side riverside restaurant that promises equally stunning views inside and out? Then try this Tom Dixon-designed dining room, where the shipping-themed decor nods to the docklands and you can watch joggers while ticking off the notable sights on the opposite riverbank. You can also roll with the watery theme by ordering something fresh from the ‘Sea’ section of the cosmopolitan menu.
A fail-safe destination on the first floor of the Royal Festival Hall, Skylon’s 1950s nostalgia and wow-inducing views of the Thames make it a permanently spectacular venue, day or night. If your finances won’t stretch to a three-course seasonal extravaganza in the easy-priced brasserie-style grill or the pimped-up restaurant, opt for a drink in the chic cocktail lounge that separates the two venues.
Tucked behind the Royal Festival Hall, this pedestrian area is now home to the Southbank Centre Food Market – a galaxy of street-food vendors, guest traders and stalls selling fresh produce to take home. Expect a rolling cavalcade of diverse, vibrant flavours from around the globe – a perfect tempter for the South Bank’s many tourists, workers and locals. And if you fancy a beer, a cocktail, wine, coffee or something sweet, they’ve got that covered too. Open weekends and bank holidays only.
Brush up your Shakespeare while diving into the menu at this full-on dinner and show experience aimed at visitors to the Globe theatre. Don’t expect touristy clichés; do expect Instagram-perfect contemporary dishes with a tub-thumping Laurence Olivier accent – as in pot-roast rump of romney marsh lamb with curly kale and caramelised shallots. The restaurant’s stunning river views also deserve a rousing cheer.
Of course, there’s plenty of artistic eye candy on show at Tate Modern, but perch at the long counter in its Level 1 Café and you’ll also be treated to up-close views of a different sort – the Thames, London’s skyline and St Paul’s are all within sight. Food-wise, expect no-frills sustenance in a genial brightly lit café setting (perhaps try the smoked salmon with onion and capers followed by a generous slice of walnut cake).
If you’re looking for some serious food and a proper restaurant experience at Tate Modern, head up to Level 9 of the Blavatnik Building where you’ll find a vast dining room done out in cutting-edge canteen style. The kitchen turns out a concise menu of modern dishes with lots of seasonal British ingredients on display, but also prepare yourself for some top-drawer imbibing here.
The National’s small-plates brasserie is ideal for pre-theatre grazing. Dishes arrive swiftly and the menu reads well: expect a mix of modishly Mediterranean and international ideas along the lines of polenta with tempeh ragù or lamb croquettes with anchovy cream. Be careful though: these small plates really are small, and the bill can add up quickly if you’re having a proper meal rather than merely snacking.
The debut restaurant from former ‘MasterChef: The Professionals’ runner-up Tom Simmons is a glass-sided venue with an open kitchen, parquet floors and seaside ornaments distracting from the depressing views of a windswept corporate development outside. He cooks meticulous dishes with British and Welsh overtones, like crispy pig’s head with piccalilli purée, spring lamb with Jerusalem artichoke and cavolo nero, and rhubarb and custard doughnuts.
You’ve heard of living in a box. How about eating in a shipping container? Mexican chain Wahaca has one of its more interesting outposts perched on the terrace of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, with plenty of alfresco seats overlooking the Thames. Street-food staples form the backbone of the menu (burritos, tacos, tostadas etc.) – or you can load up from the mobile Mexican Street Kitchen parked up alongside the river.
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