Originally published November 2017 (some alterations for clarity have been made)
When it comes to dining locations, it’s pretty hard to beat the Oxo Tower with its dining balcony, double height picture postcard windows and views along the river from the Houses of Parliament to Tower Bridge taking in St. Paul’s and The City. Both the brasserie and the restaurant offer the same views and a modern European menu that fits their differing status. It is all very much the sort of thing you’ll find at any restaurant run by the Harvey Nichols. While the Restaurant is more expensive, formal and spacious with a menu to match, the Bistro is stripped back and buzzing, it’s decor putting you in mind of the hey days of Terrence Conran. Most importantly the brasserie also plays host to the bar should you fancy a drink with a view rather than a whole meal. If the weather is good enough ask for a table by on the balcony, otherwise request a table as close to the riverside window as possible. You wont be disappointed, especially at sunset.
The menu is designed to be light and flavour packed, even offering salads as a main or starter, and plenty of fish. Starters include the likes of grilled king prawns, Asian beef carpaccio, air cured lamb, and burrata, while mains see dishes such as scallops, sea bass, and pork belly or a choice from their grill which includes sea bream along side lamb rump and a couple of steak options. This maybe the brasserie, but the prices can be up there, starters range from £8 for a bowl of soup to £14 for the majority, while mains range from £17 to £30 (or £65 for a cote de boeuf for two), with the inevitable brasserie sides coming in at a hefty £5.50.
The stand out dish is by far the Veal T-bone from the grill (£26.50), served simply with a flavoured butter and best accompanied by sides of chips and the rocket, fennel and Parmesan salad. The veal is wonderfully tender and flavourful, cooked pink, the char from the grill mingling beautifully with the soft flavourful fat, salt and lemon juice. If you’re lucky the bone may have a little spinal cord attached to it too.
While the food is generally pretty good with little to fault it (save perhaps the price), the real issue with the brasserie is it’s service. Service that could at best be described as sometimes-lackadaisical service from a few members of staff. Sadly some of them have the air of thinking themselves ‘too cool to work here’ about them, not helped I’m sure by the way too trendy aprons some of them don. On my last visit having ordered the wine and been served it, it took a further 40 minutes for us to finally get to order, no matter how much we tried to get there attention and asked for some one to come. Simply unacceptable. Worst of all, this had the nock on effect that it took ages to get water and we had finished the wine by the time the main course arrived. This left us with no choice but to purchase an unanticipated second bottle, and the wine isn’t cheap there, this was one of the cheaper wines and was over £40. All this meant a heftier bill than imagined (we all know what wine can do to a bill and the food is not the cheapest to start with) all because they failed to be able to take a food order in a timely manner. Inexcusable, and worst of all you’re left wondering if they do it on purpose to force you to buy more wine. I’m not saying that’s what they were doing, just that the thought crossed my mind. Luckily the evening was saved by the quality of the company, our combined moaning about the service and the food being good, if it hadn’t been I would have left in a rage.
The quality of the food and views make the Oxo Tower a great venue, and while the main a la carte does add up, it has a reasonably priced three course pre/post theatre menu. While I haven’t been back to the Oxo Tower, I have to another Harvey Nichols establishment, the Forth Floor Restaurant and the bar at Harvey Nichols Edinburgh where both the service and the food was spot on.