The Oxo Tower Brasserie
I think it’s quite fitting that my first post is about such an iconic London landmark. The Oxo Tower in its current form was built in the 1920s, after the makers of Oxo stock cubes bought the power station originally on the site. The top of the tower has the word “Oxo” built into it – often mistaken for bricks, the letters are made up of vertically-aligned windows, which was the company’s cunning ruse to circumvent the planning authority’s refusal to let them brand the building with advertisements. For more history on the building itself, click here.
This building is such a beautiful one – a standout piece of architecture on this stretch of the Thames along with the Tate Modern. It baffles me how it hasn’t yet become a listed building. Nowadays, the wharf houses galleries, bespoke retailers (some dinner plates I spotted here have been on my wish list ever since!), and some (expensive) flats. It’s an outlet for chic and creativity. At the top, there are two restaurants and a bar. These opened in 1996, and are associated with luxury retailer Harvey Nichols. We dined at the Brasserie, the more casual of the venues.
It was a perfect evening when we arrived at the Oxo Tower just before dusk. We were shown into some lifts and whisked up to the 8th floor, where you turn left for the Restaurant and right for the Brasserie/Bar – a subconscious nod to the separation of first class and the looky loos, perhaps. We were greeted at reception and shown to our table. I had requested a window table, but I guess everyone asks for one, and the host informed me that tables are seated on a first-come-first-served basis, so our reservation just didn’t win the time lottery that evening. We were by the windows overlooking south London though – I could almost pick out my old flat in Southwark – so we could watch the sunset in the west.
The Brasserie room is lofty and noisy, but full of atmosphere. The kitchen is actually right in the middle of the space, with the Bar and Brasserie curling around it. Whilst the tables were quite packed in, we didn’t feel too close to the people around us, nor did their conversation flood ours. There was a guitar and double bass duo providing live musical entertainment, which added to the bustling ambience of the place. We were promptly given menus – the waiting staff were extremely attentive all evening, but we didn’t feel rushed; a difficult balance to strike.
We ordered some drinks – I had a champagne cocktail (Three’s A Crowd – strong!) and the rest of my party ordered Aperol Spritz, a family favourite of ours. We ordered our food and, although the starters came somewhat quickly meaning we couldn’t really savour our cocktails, everything was absolutely delicious.
I had the falafel salad to start – with pumpkin, feta cheese and chipotle dressing. The falafel was served warm and pleasantly spicy, and there wasn’t so much of it that I was too full, which is a danger with a falafel starter. We also sampled the iberico ham – summed up by my brother’s girlfriend as a posh version of eggs and bacon! – and the grilled tiger prawns which were a deconstructed, upscaled prawn cocktail. All lip-smackingly good.
For main, I had the scallops. I’m a big fish lover, but I’m not a particularly adventurous or capable cook, so when I go out for dinner I’m often tempted by the seafood options. The scallops were perfectly cooked, and the complementary flavours of the smoked duck made for a delicious combination. On the side, I ordered the tenderstem broccoli – also delicious, I ate almost the entire portion! On the table was also the sesame seared tuna – a large, generous portion of rare tuna steak with a delectable slaw on the side – and the pan-fried duck breast. Perhaps to the frequent fine diner, the menu doesn’t seem particularly creative or adventurous. But this was the first time I’ve had some of these flavour pairings before, making every dish a treat to try.
For dessert, we had the flourless chocolate cake and the lemon tart, both of which were correctly portioned (not so large you feel sick after eating it…) and sweet, but not too sweet! Whilst ordering dessert, we asked whether there was a possibility we could move to a table closer to the window. The staff were extremely accommodating, and we were swiftly informed that we could move into the Bar. We settled up and followed the impeccably-attired host into the Bar area, and were surprised and delighted when he showed us to a table right by the window. Here, we sampled several of the cocktails, including the Singapore Sling, Windjammer and Brief Encounter – all of which were potent but luscious. I had been saving myself for a vodka martini with a twist – my drink of choice – and was so pleased to see the extensive ranges of vodka on offer, to the point that I actually couldn’t decide what to have.
We sat there sipping our cocktails, soaking up the music and the buzz, for a couple of hours, and at no point were we asked to move or hurried. The view is incredible, and the Bar / Brasserie also has an extensive terrace overlooking the river which will be fantastic to sit out in the summer. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a good picture because of the light reflection, so you’ll have to seek it out for yourself!
Whilst not cheap, for a special occasion or blow-out meal, this is a brilliant choice. The menu seems restrictive in that there’s only one page of starters, one page of mains, and one of desserts, but actually the choice is hardly limited. There’s also a specialist vegetarian and vegan menu to cater for the carnivorously-challenged (I love meat, no way I’m ever giving that up). And, of course, it’s all impeccably presented, to the point that you don’t want to spoil it by tucking in. I’ve often heard it said that well-established, well-to-do institutions such as this in London have come to disappoint, but the Oxo Tower met and outdid my expectations. We had wonderful evening there, as did, it seemed, everyone around us. It’s an icon for a reason.