Restaurants on the South Bank
The low ceiling, square dimensions and lack of natural light have long hampered this riverfront space at the BFI Southbank, and Benugo haven’t succeeded in making it into an appealing venue. But at least they've nailed the food, with solid burgers, sarnies and salads.
Footfall keeps this SE1 branch of the popular chain busy, even if, tucked away around the back of the building, it's away from the main Royal Festival Hall drag. It's one of two Canteens in London, with its sister site in Spitalfields. The group was one of the first to reappraise British cuisine, and the ethos remains the same today. Expect dishes such as Lancashire cheese tart and sausage mash and onion gravy.
As you’d expect, the food at this third branch of coffee-roasters-turned-fusion-fare hawkers Caravan is sound – with a broad, globally peripatetic menu branching ever wider from the Antipodean fare it first made its name with. Plus, the cavernous room – all lofty height, stripped wood and metal girders – looks marvellous.
Serving sustainably sourced fish and regular seasonal menus, Feng Sushi takes its ethical/eco responsibilities seriously. During spawning season they particularly promote vegetarian options, for instance. This branch, at the Royal Festival Hall, is great for everything from a quick bite to a full meal, and a good example of the chain's take on Japanese classics with a modern twist.
Gillray’s occupies a large site inside the London Marriott Hotel County Hall, facing the London Eye and Houses of Parliament. Get the right seat and you'll be treated to some spectacular views of both, and down the Thames. It takes its name from the eighteenth-century satirist James Gillray, and features some of his works on the walls (though wisely they've omitted 'The Gout', his grotesque take on good-living).
If you don’t love Giraffe, you probably don’t have children. It’s not that giving birth suddenly creates a taste for burritos or pesto oil, but new parents have a heightened appreciation of such elements as well-spaced tables, buggy parking, unflappable staff and ground floor toilets. Giraffe’s crayons, sheet of games and spot-on kid’s menu have given many a couple the simple luxury of a breather on a hectic day out – and the food’s not bad.
A serious interior sets the tone for cooking of considerable ambition and adventurousness at the National Theatre's restaurant. Though there are more conventional dishes, desserts make it clear that chefs here possess creativity that's bursting to get out. The perfect location if you’re seeing a performance at the Olivier or Lyttleton Theatres.
The family-friendly, Portuguese-inspired chain restaurant known for its peri-peri chicken has more than 70 branches across London. This one tucked away on Stamford Street offers a reliable feed when hungry on a touristy day out.
The Oxo Tower is a London landmark, and its two restaurants and bar emanate a sense of occasion. A glass frontage makes the most of river views, with St Paul's and City buildings easily visible. Dishes here range from a root veg and pearl barley risotto, lobster tempura with a seashore vegetable broth, and venison terrine with pumpkin chutney and toasted brioche.
Ping Pong makes dim sum for the not-always-initiated – ‘little steamed parcels of deliciousness’ (in their own words). That means dumplings, and lots of ’em. Expect the full range of beef, chicken, seafood and vegetable options – not just steamed, mind, but fried too – plus soups, buns, rice dishes and desserts.
This rooftop allotment-cum-woodland-cum-wildflower meadow is great for sunny South Bank lunchtimes (only open in spring and summertime months). You'd be hard put to find a prettier setting for a sandwich in central London. Food and drink come from a smart wooden bar area run by Company of Cooks. Don't hold out for a full meal or a fry-up, but the short menu of light salads, sandwiches, cakes and snacks suits the civilised, slightly otherworldly vibe.
The dining room at Tate Modern is located on the sixth floor and offers views across to St Paul's Cathedral, if the art downstairs didn't do it for you. A menu of British classics includes wood pigeon, pan-fried plaice and cuts of red meat on the josper grill (but comes at a bit of a premium thanks to that view).
The style and softly coloured decor at RSJ haven’t changed fin many years, but this is probably how regulars (who rely on the restaurant for relaxed lunches and pre- or post-theatre dinners) like it. Food consistently displays high levels of skill and refinement, and staff are very good at making sure you get out in time to make that show.
The Mondrian’s flagship restaurant has an open kitchen on one side and riverside views on another. The menu name-checks many trends and diverse dish styles, but renders the dishes well. The cooking makes it worth the stroll from the South Bank, with meals served all day. Securing a table may not be easy though, especially if you want a view of St Paul’s across the river.
Skylon can’t really fail: its setting on the first floor of the Royal Festival Hall, with lofty ceilings and superb Thames views from soaring windows, is always spectacular, by day or night, and adds wow factor to any meal. The chic cocktail bar, amid sofas in the centre of the space, also offers a dose of metropolitan pizazz. Dining areas are split between the brasserie-style Grill on one side of the bar and the Restaurant, with a more fine-dining menu, on the other.
Venue says Enjoy seasonal modern-British cooking under the direction of our respected executive chef Kim Woodward.
Tucked behind the Royal Festival Hall, this pedestrian area often hosts food markets, such as the Real Food Market which has over 40 food producers and traders (typically Fri-Sun only). Discover street food in various guises – Egyptian, South Indian Polish, or Korean fusion – which is perfect for the South Bank’s many tourists, workers and locals.
Attached to the Globe theatre and overlooking the Thames from the second floor, the Swan is guaranteed a substantially tourist clientele. The first floor bar is a casual stop for bar snacks and booze, while the second floor restaurant is an elegant space for breakfast through to lunch and dinner. Afternoon tea is especially popular.
Tate Modern’s big, bustling entrance-level café has something for everyone: light snacks (meat platters, bloomer sandwiches); main courses that aim higher than they need to (pork cutlet with a salad of pak choi and shiitake) plus a proper wine list. You'll also find posh breakfasts afternoon tea and floor-to-ceiling views out to the Thames.
The National Theatre's small-plates brasserie is ideal for pre-theatre grazing. Dishes arrive swiftly, just as they should. The menu reads well enough: a mixture of modishly Mediterranean and international dishes. But the 'small plates' really are small, and the bill can add up quickly if you’re having a meal and not merely grazing.
The well-known Japanese chain has an outpost by the Royal Festival Hall and attracts out of towners looking for a touch of the familiar. But they know how to deal with a crowd here and the food is reliable, if a little underwhelming. When on the South Bank...
You’ve heard of living in a box. How about dining in a box? Or, to be precise, eating in one of eight shipping containers? Mexican chain Wahaca has one of its more interesting outposts perched on the terrace of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, with 130 seats spread over two floors as well as outdoor seats (which have the best views of the river, obviously). Find the usual street food staples on the menu - burritos, tacos, tostadas. Wait with a tequila cocktail at busier times and they'll buzz you when a table's free.