Where to Eat and Drink Near the London Eye
Once you’ve finished taking in the sky-high sights of the capital, get your head out of the clouds and back down to earth for some restorative feasting. The Southbank is famously home to many a chain restaurant – and you’ll find Wahaca, Giraffe, Five Guys, Ping Pong and Byron will do the job if that’s what you’re after — but you’d be missing out on a wealth of brilliant independents just a stone’s throw away. Whether you’re celebrating and want something suitably swanky to keep those bubbles flowing, or you’re looking for somewhere cheap, filling and family-friendly, SE1 and its locality has something for you. Here’s where we’d go after our ride on the Eye.
Riverside Terrace Café
Ideal for sunny days, the Riverside Terrace Café at the Southbank Centre allows you to continue admiring London’s beauty from its elevated position on the Southbank. It’s informal and casual, with lots of pavement seating on a terrace with views over the Thames towards Charing Cross, and a good selection of pastries to go with your coffee. Later in the day there’s a choice of light bites, plus hearty and healthy homemade seasonal soups and stews that make it a good shout for a quick pitstop with friends and family. On fair weather days you’ll find it to be a popular spot – as anywhere with outside space is in London – with people enjoying a post-work wine until closing time at 10.30pm.
Riverside Terrace Café, Royal Festival Hall, Riverside Terrace, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX
There’s no need to restrict yourself to the Southbank – or even SE1 – after visiting the Eye; by crossing the Hungerford Bridge, you’ll bring yourself to Embankment, where there’s also a plethora of eateries worth your cash. We really like mini-chain Lupita (there are three in London), an actually good Mexican restaurant where you can get fresh, vibrant food with distinctly Latin flavours. Book for larger tables, or you can mostly just walk in, and you’ll find tasty tacos, tortas and tostadas along with authentically filled Cali-style burritos and big plates of Mexico City-inspired slow-roasted pork, and huge prawns. Choose from five different flavours of margarita, or kick back with a Mexican beer. Visit at lunch and you can also opt for the Express Menu at £9.95 for tacos or a burrito and a side dish, which sounds fair to us – especially as one of the sides is chicarrones, those addictive crispy pork crackling bits with salsa and lime.
Lupita, 13–15 Villiers Street, WC2N 6ND
Set within the impressive County Hall building on Westminster Bridge, Gillray’s Steakhouse & Bar is a handy spot for a meaty lunch or dinner. You can also take afternoon tea in the historic library, or some of their signature gin cocktails in the bar. There’s a certain Harry Potter-esque element to the décor throughout, with ceiling-high original antique bookcases, imposing sculptures and historic prints from its namesake, eighteenth century political cartoonist James Gillray. The restaurant prides itself on its locally sourced food, with the majority of produce from farms in Kent and Essex, going into dishes like crayfish cocktail, Gillray’s 280g steak burger and traditional sherry trifle with Tiptree fruits. There’s a market menu at £28 for three courses with a cocktail; otherwise, starters are around £10 and mains £14–40ish depending on how carnivorous you’re feeling. BYOB on Sundays and Mondays with £5 corkage can’t be bad for a view of the Eye, Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.
Gillray’s, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, SE1 7PB
Tandoor Chop House
A 15-minute foray over the Hungerford Bridge and just past Charing Cross station will take you up to almost-Soho and, more importantly, the Tandoor Chop House. Here, you’ll find a welcome as warm as their tandoor oven, glam-yet-relaxed interiors and a menu where British produce and classics meet Indian spice and technique. You won’t go wrong with anything here, but we’d particularly urge you towards the black dahl, the bone marrow butter naan, the seekh kebab roll with (incredible) green chutney and pomegranate, and of course the lamb chops, which were all over Instagram for months when it opened last winter. Prices are low for the quality of food: £4–5 for snacks, £9–16.50 for tandoori items and sides around £3. Finish with a Tandoor Hazelnut Espresso Martini. Just trust us.
Tandoor Chop House, 8 Adelaide Street, WC2N 4HZ
Closer to home and within the lovely Royal Festival Hall is D&D-owned Skylon, which we’ve been fans of since it opened ten or so years ago. Every time we visit the menu is on point, with a short list of seasonal, well thought out and creative dishes that hasn’t been too fussed about and portions that won’t leave you needing a McDonald’s on the way home. At the moment, the hay-baked celeriac starter with goat’s cheese cream, chorizo and quails egg sounds downright delicious, as does the spiced coffee panna cotta with gingerbread, candied walnuts and cinnamon meringues. Both of those items are from the purse-friendly lunch express menu: two courses for £25 or three for £30. A similar pre-theatre deal is available for £30/£35 and the à la carte menu has starters for around £14 and mains at £26 – or splash out on the £75 tasting menu if you’re feeling flush. Children are well catered for here, as are veggies, so this is a nice location for a spot of family feasting as you gaze upon the Thames and its riverside view.
Skylon, Royal Festival Hall, Riverside Terrace, Belvedere Road SE1 8XX
A ride on the Eye can give you a taste for the high life, and if that’s the case, why not head for the art deco sophistication of The Savoy. Just off of the Strand, and a 16-minute amble east on the Northbank, The Savoy is a beautiful and historic hotel and home to Kaspar’s Seafood Bar and Gordon Ramsay’s Savoy Grill – both top notch. The latter is Ramsay’s signature fine-dining style of British food with a French twist, while Kaspar’s is more chilled out and boasts a £39 fruits-de-mer platter, signature Dover sole (£42) and more.
You’ll also find Simpson’s in the Strand (famous for roasts) and the relatively new Melba patisserie and coffee shop, with the most amazing éclairs that will test even the strictest dieter’s resolve. Their American Bar was awarded World’s Best Bar last week at the World’s 50 Best Bars Awards, thanks to bartender Erik Lorincz’s drinks wizardry, so you really should at least pop your head in there for a classic cocktail or two.
The Savoy, Strand, WC2R 0EU
The original Dough Bros duo, popular among the street food scene for their tremendous Neapolitan pizzas, have moved to a bricks and mortar site near the Imax and rechristened themselves Crust Bros for the occasion. Rest assured, you’ll still find the same rustic wood-fired creations as before, only now you’ve got a comfy seat (50 of them), protection from the weather and rather a nice range of Italian wines, prosecco and craft beer to enjoy along with your pizza. With a fearsomely hot wood-fired oven, pizzas take only 90 seconds to become pliable, bubbling rounds of cheesy, sourdoughy joy, so take your time over your choice. We’d say go for the Fix Your Own, whereby your choice of base (at £5.80) is topped with any combination of the finest Italian ingredients the brothers could wangle, at just £1 a topping. Pig cheeks, nduja, charred courgettes and fabulous cheeses feature strongly. Leave room for an indecently thick gelato shake afterwards, too.
Crust Bros, 113 Waterloo Road, SE1 8UL
The quieter side of Waterloo is completely different from the tourist-heavy Southbank, and it’s here you’ll find a lovely new addition to the SE1 restaurant scene in Florentine. An all-day restaurant and bar with a big emphasis on freshness and seasonality, there’s a lot to love at this light and bright brasserie. Breakfasts are a thing to behold, with a sharer Full English for four complete with ostrich egg (YUM) at £65, but there are also simpler and far smaller plates, like scrambled eggs with black truffle (£8) and breakfast sandwiches. Later on in the day there’s a Mediterranean-leaning menu of things like Iberico bellota pan con tomate, San Daniele ham and brie piadina or black lentil and goat’s cheese salad with pomegranate and hazelnut. Their flatbreads are big news, with toppings like Tuscan sausage, stilton and rocket or horseradish cream, all under £9 and perfect for sharing with some drinks, which tend to be British and bubbly.
Florentine, 6 Hercules Road, SE1 7DU
Gordon’s Wine Bar
Does this place need any introduction? Or any more customers, for that matter? The answer is no to both, but we’re kind souls so will tell you that down Villiers Street leading to Embankment tube, there is one of the best wine bars in the whole of London. A delicious dark-wood cavern of candles, cheese and utterly brilliant wines, it tends to be standing room only unless you duck out of work early for an inside seat –there are no reservations unless you’re aiming for the private ‘Cage’ of 8–10 people. You’ll find plenty of people standing outside whatever the weather, such is its popularity. We love.
Gordon’s Wine Bar, 47 Villiers Street, WC2N 6NE
Bala Baya is positioned as a day in the life of Tel Aviv, and what a day it is. Nestled in the heart of Southwark, and ideal if you’re journeying onwards via Southwark or London Bridge stations, the restaurant is a smart-casual ode to the fabulous food of Israel. It starts with a daily changing range of freshly baked sweet and savoury pastries (which quickly got themselves a reputation), before moving on to grab-and-go lunches of imaginatively stuffed pitas — we’re all over the braised beef shoulder with rocket and radish salad, date glaze, tahini and tomato. Dinner is a dressier affair, with divine tasting menus (£30 veggie / £35 pescatarian / £46 all-in) of fresh and moreish flavours, ending with a showstopping burnt babka. There’s also a weekend brunch worth the 19-minute walk, and all manner of cocktails for those of you wanting a nightcap or two.
Bala Baya, Arch 25, Old Union Yard Arches, 229 Union Street, SE1 0LR
Southbank Food Market
Indecisive – or just downright greedy – types might want to check out the food market attached to the Southbank centre. Here, trader upon trader is peddling their well-sourced wares of fresh, creative street food to a very hungry crowd. Of the thirty-odd stallholders here, we particularly enjoy the works of Arabica (popping up from their actual restaurant a mile or so down the road at Borough Market), with their colourful mezze style salads and kibbeh, Spit & Roast’s eponymously cooked meats and buttermilk fried chicken, and the Breton-style crêpes coming out of Crêperie Nicolas (vegan and gf too). There’s a nice smattering of drinks stalls too, from virtuous green smoothies right up to hard liquor-based cocktails. Go there and go wild.
Southbank Centre Market, Royal Festival Hall, Riverside Terrace, Belvedere Road SE1 8XX
Speaking of cocktails, no one can visit the Southbank without a little look-in at Dandelyan, can they? Cocktail King Mr Lyan, aka Ryan Chetiyawardana, has created a proper little haven at London’s riverside Mondrian hotel, and the Dandelyan bar has been awarded World’s Best Cocktail Bar this year thanks to its flights of fancy along themes of exoticism, escapism and vice. There’s a much-talked-about Wyld Afternoon Tea, of botanical inspired miniatures like blackcurrant and verbena Battenberg, or elderflower-compressed cucumber and burnt herb cream sandwich, with matching cocktails should you desire – but why would you? It’s £55, or £35 boozeless, every Thursday to Sunday, with a special edition Halloween version right now. Otherwise, just pitch up and let the expert bar team take care of your Wyld-est drinks-based desires.
Dandelyan, 20 Upper Ground, SE1 9PD