Epicurean expeditions with
GB Bar and Grill
The Shard dominates the street view on the approach to GB Grill and Bar in Southwark, typifying an area of south east London that is currently undergoing much regeneration, and into which young, buzzy and trendy outlook this outstanding restaurant fits very comfortably indeed.
The interior of GB Grill and Bar is laid-back industrial-modern, with seating a mixture of tables around which cluster railback chairs with tie-on cushions and American-diner-style booths. We were led to such a booth, above which hung a large fabric lightshade with the rather pretty floral design from inside projected out through the translucent fabric. This differs from the lighting in the other areas of the restaurant, with industrial pendant lights in the fully-glazed frontage, and elsewhere wires draped from a central ceiling point with reflector bulbs ensuring an adequate ‘spread’ of light without glare; angled recessed lights complement the effect. Tables are simply but effectively dressed – the bare wood free of tablecloths and trappings; simple, unfussy cutlery; a single candle on each table; and tumblers for water. The menus are printed on heavyweight (presumably recycled) brown paper, which also act as placemats. The popular music present when we entered (rather blaring and intrusive) soon changed to an enjoyable jazz (Ella Fitzgerald / Oscar Peterson-inspired), which was played at a discreet volume so as to be enjoyable but not hamper conversation.
The service is very good: informal and chatty but nevertheless helpful and attentive. Very good care was taken of young master Tristan, with the extremely friendly East-ender who looked after us first offering a high chair and then bringing big padded cushions to raise him up more to our level on the bench; whilst a Spanish waitress brought him a toy bus to play with and – movingly – talked affectionately to him in her native tongue.
The menu offers a choice of six starters plus a bread box (several of these are vegetarian and a couple fish-orientated); while mains comprise four non-grill items (we both went for one of these), the pie of the day and fish of the day, two types of steak, an Angus burger, and rotisserie chicken (half or whole). There are various tempting side dishes on offer as well.
The wine list (printed on an A4 sheet of the same paper as the menu and displayed on a clipboard), like the menu, is relatively short, with only eleven each of red and white wines, two roses and six sparkling; one suspects that as many clientele order cocktails as wine – several were specifically mentioned on the wine list, and a full cocktail list was also available. Back to the wine list (not being about to drink cocktails with our meals!): France probably predominates, but Italy, England, South Africa, Argentina, New Zealand, Spain and Australia also feature. There are very brief but nevertheless helpful descriptions for each wine.
We went for a Malbec Torrontes, Malbrontes, 2013 from Mendoza, Argentina, which was a very dark purple – verging on black – in colour, with a dark and very spicy nose featuring black berry fruits and a hint of tar and liquorice. The taste was rich and full, and very peppery indeed – oodles of black pepper hit the palate first and black fruit, tar and leather followed after. It was possibly just a tiny bit harsh, but mellowed with time and was generally an impressive bottle.
For my starter (here called small plates) I chose the hog shank and savoy cabbage terrine – and my already not unfavourable impressions of GB Grill and Bar rocketed. It was quite exquisite – very moist and meaty and intensely full-flavoured: the layers of meat in the terrine extremely porcine, whilst the stripes of savoy cabbage seemed to hold the very essence of that often under-rated brassica, denoting the freshest and best of ingredients. It was accompanied by pickled giroles on what tasted like a celeriac puree, which was gloriously creamy and worked extremely well to temper the (welcome) saltiness of the pork. The chervil root in the puree added a further and well-thought-through dimension with lovely crunchy morsels of intense herbiness.
My husband’s onion and cider soup with cheesy sourdough toast was pronounced equally excellent and really hit the spot after giving a long and strenuous concert (he being a concert violinist). Although quite delicate, it sported a lingering and sustained impact of flavour which rendered it most satisfying. The sourdough toast, too, was excellent, with just enough cheese to lift it above the ordinary, and the whole beautifully light. My husband noted that I should strongly recommend this to any potential patrons of the establishment as a starter – it was light enough to ensure there is plenty of room for the following food, but substantial enough to take the edge off one’s appetite and to enable one to view the rest of the meal with pleasurable anticipation. However, if I have now committed myself to recommending dishes, I must honestly say that I don’t believe that anything could beat the terrine!
The main courses were good too – I opted for the oak smoked and roasted Scottish venison, which was served slightly pinker than I would have liked but had a stunning taste, rich and salty and very deep and intense. The chef later informed us that it had been home cold- smoked with olive oil and rock salt to engender the depth of flavour. One received a very generous portion too, with thick, chunky slices. The accompanying blackberry sauce was very fruity and seeped into the anise carrot puree, which was consequently slightly more blackberry favoured than anything else. The two spires of herb dumplings (some emulation of the Shard going on here?) were very herby, but a little too dry for my palate. The final element of the dish was a small portion of rich spinach. As a whole, all elements worked well to complement each other.
Mr Marshall-Luck’s roast pork belly was gloriously tasty, wonderfully tender and just salty enough, with some deliciously crisp crackling to complete the dish. The meat used by GB Grill and Bar is from a Suffolk farm, marinated overnight to ensure depth of flavour, then blasted at high heat before being slow-roasted at a lower temperature to produce the intense taste. All very impressive.
No desserts tempted me (being more of a savoury person) but I found myself yearning for a little salad, so the accommodating staff combined a starter and cheese course for me, presenting me with a wooden board of Cornish yarg – quite delicately flavoured but delicious nevertheless, alongside red grapes and a baby gem salad with a slightly sharp dressing which cut through the creaminess of the cheese well.
My husband took up the opportunity to sample all the desserts; expecting tiny portions of each, he was slightly nonplussed to be presented with four seemingly full-sized puddings! He pronounced them all absolutely superb: the crumble was deliciously fruity with a light yet nicely-textured cinnamon-y topping; and the pear and almond tart was buoyant, fresh and moist, with the (extremely alcoholic) rum ice-cream providing an effective foil. In the chocolate pudding with drunken cherries, the sponge was perhaps a fraction on the heavy side, but boasted an intense chocolate flavour, well complemented by the cherries which were steeped in kirsch and nestled on a bed of whipped cream. He concluded with the lemon and rosemary posset which was wonderfully light, with a subtle and distinctive flavour. It was presented topped with a compote of berries, the slight tartness of which threw the flavour of the posset itself into perfect relief.
On the whole, it was an outstanding meal, and on top of the excellent food we had been made to feel very welcome. I must confess that it this is not the sort of restaurant that we would have normally visited, tending to go for establishments that are less trendy and modern and more elegant and old-fashioned (less vibe and more timeless classic) – yet I am very glad we did visit as we would most definitely have missed out on something rather special. Highly recommended.
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