Bridge Perfect

Jennie Blouet and Franco Barone travelled a little further to the South Bank of the Thames near Tower Bridge to another of D&D’s top restaurants – the Pont de la Tour – for a  top rated dining experience and commented as follows:

You know when you hope that something will be perfect, but you expect that it probably won’t be?  And how, being human, there is comfort in finding out that you were right?

This was the fourth time that I’d been to the Pont in (sigh) 20 years.  I had fond memories of lovely food in grand surroundings, excellent, formal service and views of surely one of the greatest bridges in the World.  So it was with excitement and nervousness that I went for early dinner on a Thursday night with the Girl and a molar that not 5 hours earlier had been relieved of its rooted nerves (just take an ibuprofen she’d said, it’ll be fine).  From a warm welcome at the door, we breezed through a bar and grill area that, as the evening progressed, grew into itself.  We were graciously seated at a lovely table facing the river and bridge.

Pont de la Tour main restaurant

Pont de la Tour main restaurant

The room is done in timelessly elegant but relaxed 30’s style: you almost feel as though you’re on a plush old steamer, a city version of Marlow’s Compleat Angler.  We were offered a glass of Argentinian “champagne”, produced by the latter half of Moet et Chandon: interesting and pleasant; but champagne comes from Champagne for a reason.

Very artistic and attractive menu cover

Very artistic and attractive menu cover

The menus are a treat, and not just visually.  There is a fantastic set lunch and dinner option: 3 courses for £28.50 and £32 respectively, with a choice of 4 plates per course (extra sides are on top).  The a la carte contained the likes of starters of smoked salmon with traditional condiments at £16.50, mains in the £26.00 bracket and desserts as expected.

I’d checked the wine list online before going.  Gone are the days of a mighty tome to wrestle with that I recall from many years ago.  There is a good variety by the glass, a list of champagne spreads from £70-£420, and an excellent mix of wines that start at under £30.  I do respect a posh restaurant that treats its customers fairly.

I’m happy that I had: we didn’t see a wine list.  We didn’t have to.  I now see from the Pont’s website that the Head Sommelier, Jean-Marie Contestin, is a valued member of the team.  I am not surprised.  I had previously never met a London sommelier that I liked.  But this guy is fantastic.  His choices, descriptions, enthusiasm and charm were unsurpassed in my experience.

A quick word too about bread.  They bake it there.  Soft, tasty butter served on a cold marble round and the type of rolls that you cannot find better in France.

We went a la carte – because we wanted to try the following.

Seared Foie Gras with caramelised figs

Seared Foie Gras with caramelised figs

For starters we had scallops, sautéed girolles, pink onion, sweetcorn and sea herbs and seared foie gras, caramelised plum and puffed wild rice.  I loved the way they wanted us to share, so each course was thoughtfully delivered with extra plates and attention.  Oh, where to start? I’d had “foie gras peolé” a couple of times in France and all I can say is that I preferred it uncooked.  But this was unforgettable.  Sublime.  Extraordinary.  I’m salivating as I write.  The scallops were of a type I’d never had: huge, with body (not the usual “butter through lard” feeling), dribbled in a deliciously delicate “vinaigrette”, possibly the tastiest I’ve ever eaten. Expertly selected wines – fascinating as I would never have chosen them myself (eg. a German Riesling) – were the perfect accompaniment.

So, so far so good.  Can they keep this up?

For mains we had roasted red legged partridge,  smoked bacon, savoy cabbage, blackberries (it’s November after all) with smoked bacon, savoy cabbage, blackberries and fillet of seabream, confit fennel, baby squid, crushed potatoes.  Let me know if I’m boring you but for execution and taste they were faultless.  And none of this “only 3 mouthfuls on the plate” nonsense.  The partridge was perfect: a mild gamey flavour in soft, firm, flesh, cooked to perfection.  The fish I smelt before even seeing it.  Quite simply stunning.  Everything beautifully judged, tasty as hell, and again with a red and white wine that we begged to snap the labels of.

Lobster Thermidor - one of the Pont de la Tour's signature main courses

Lobster Thermidor – one of the Pont de la Tour’s signature main courses

Surely disappointment lay ahead, no?

I’m not really a dessert man.  Cheese and a coffee and I’m more than happy.  But I forced myself to suffer the blackberry soufflé with cardamom ice cream, and the Girl went for Chocolate marquise, poached pears and salted caramel.   Oh my word.  The former was of a heavenly, airy consistency, with a compote that reminded me of my mother’s made with berries from the garden and hedgerows.  The Chocolate marquise was surprisingly light and not so surprisingly moreish.  M. le Sommelier treated us to a couple of glasses of dessert wine which too often disappoint, but not here.  Wow.

Needless to say, the coffee was delicious.

A word about staff.  Charming.  There is no stuffiness here.  Throughout the meal we were honoured by faultlessly but unintrusively attentive service from staff who seemed genuinely happy to be there.  It was as friendly and relaxed as professional and precise.

Terrace area with spectacular view of Tower Bridge dressed for winter dining

Terrace area with spectacular view of Tower Bridge dressed for winter dining

You can say what you want about large organisations, but this is a triumph of D&D experience and class.  Our compliments to the kitchen and front of house.  And – yes – thankfully the dentist had been right.

Sometimes in life things turn out as perfectly as you’d hoped.

The Pont de la Tour is at 36 D Shad Thames, London SE1 2YE Tel:020 7403 8403

Opening Hours: LUNCH Monday – Friday: 12.00pm – 2.30pm Saturday – Sunday and Bank Holidays: 12.00pm – 3.00pm DINNER Monday – Saturday: 6.00pm – 10.30pm Sunday and Bank Holidays: 6pm – 9.30pm

Franco Barone