Some people thrive on the thrill of an uber-posh eating emporium. I for one prefer to take my meals without a side of near dread… that familiar, hushed death-row march through a room that’s a little too grand saps my appetite in no time. Happily, the bar at the Gilbert Scott offers a safe haven from such traumas; the ostentatious décor may not be to your liking, but I’d be amazed if you feel awkward or uncomfortable.
If you’ve admired a magnificent publicity shot of the place, then chances are you were looking at the bar rather than the restaurant. The space is extravagant as hell and truly awe-inspiring, but relatively laid-back in mood, nonetheless. There’s an interesting mashup of gothic, art deco and contemporary styling bubbling away; the ivories tinkle from the restaurant next door; and the bar staff work with an amiable (if unhurried) approach. Granted it isn’t the slickest of operations and arguably not the most efficient if you’re governed by scheduled connections, but time seems to pass at an appealingly leisurely pace. It’s worth making a window.
Myself and a friend were perfectly content having afternoon tea here, despite being post-spa, stripped of make-up and shiny of face. The tiers of cakes and savouries looked delightful even if the presentation wasn’t up there with the refinement of the Sanderson’s offering, say. Purists may find the sandwiches a little scrappily prepared, but pud lovers will adore the lemon drizzle cake and macaroons that are cute as a button. Overall the taste was great and, unusually, there was plenty for those that deem afternoon tea a twee, culinary twilight hour. (In said savoury corner, the sausage roll with apricot compote was particularly fine). Everything bar booze was (needlessly) bottomless.
Cocktails were happily heavy on gin, rhubarb and tea. The Londonist was like a homegrown Old Fashioned; heady, brooding and ultimately a bad influence. In contrast, the Rose Window was a featherlight whisper of a drink served in a cut-glass, girlie hi ball. I couldn’t tame my pinkie as it wafted into the air; making a break for a new, more demure life. We had a ball.
For my money, the Gilbert Scott bar trounces the restaurant even though value can be patchy. Bread and butter is steep at £2.50 – say what?! – but a steak sandwich or burger is around a tenner and a hotdog’s less than £7. Not at all bad, given fries are included… oh, and the fact that you’re chowing down in a veritable palace. If the crispy pig’s head on the bar menu is even a patch on what’s served next door for twice the price (albeit with cockles and fanciful foams), then it trumps any pork scratchings I’ve had. A treat well worth booking!