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Skylon Bar and Restaurant

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by Kat Parr Mackintosh (subscribe)
Young and coffee in varying degrees, Kat also says stuff @ThoroughlyMode
Published October 11th 2010
You seldom hear people holding up the fifties as a decade epitomising style in art, design or architecture. It's not often lauded as a pinnacle in culinary imagination either, but what it turns out the 1950s did do well were cocktails – especially gin based ones like Martinis, Gimlets, Tom Collins, Mai Tais, Singapore Sling, and Sea Breezes. Which means that the stylish fifties look of the, Skylon, the bar/ restaurant in the Royal Festival Hall, is bang on classic for a cocktail bar.

People may not think that the RFH is a particularly beautiful building, but it took vision to include those expansive windows overlooking the Thames - which run along the entire length of the building. And this prime piece of restaurant real estate is now occupied by the Skylon. Watching the sun go down over the water from a window-side spot in the sunken bar - with a prefect cocktail in your hand - is enough to make you fall in love with London (even if you have to take the tube to work), if not life in general and your fellow man.

The main bar is raised up and has pride of place in the centre of the room under some particularly wonderful high design lights. But you won't need to spend too much time admiring the selection of bottles behind the bartenders unless you actually want to sit at the bar – there's table service – and even if you don't get a spot with a flawless view over the water, the tables and couches in the raised section have a good view over the rest of the metropolitan buzz that musters in the Skylon at the right time of the evening.

The fifties thing isn't in your face, the staff have nifty frocks, and the Skylon has their own uber design wallpaper, carpet, and the great lights, but it's also the slightly space-ship-esque edge to the space that gives a George Jetson feel to the venue. And the feel is an original one, the architects have tried to keep as many of the original features as possible, and while the tables with their tubular legs and carousel lamps are new, they're very retro chic.

Of course a nice view and stylish ambience do not a great bar make: the drinks are better than good too. Classics and modern mixes alike, from a proper gin Martini to an Aromatic Steam (Bombay Sapphire gin, fresh pomegranate, vanilla-infused martini rossato & peach bitters served in a kitsch glass teacup).

Accompanying the colourful myriad of drinks in the menu is a single page, albeit at the front, of bar food. It's definitely quality over quantity, but plates are priced below some of the grander cocktails. Crudités, include radishes and goat cheese mousse - above the bar of crudité averages – and set the scene for the more showy offerings. They include salmon rillette with pickled cucumber, fish goujons with chips, duck spring rolls, tempura tiger prawns and honey glazed baby chorizo.

There's a restaurant and grill that surrounds the raised bar. The restaurant, is set up to be an occasion type venue, and serves what people who write restaurant reviews for newspapers would call 'Modern European' style food. The grill is a lot less formal and a lot more British, but the menu still includes words like tortelloni and confit.

The bar's open from 11am until 1am Monday to Saturday and noon until 10:30 on Sundays. Needless to say, come early for the best pews. And dress if you like to. The friendly staff do look quite 'right' in their uniforms.
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When: Aim to get there before the sun has totally set for the best view of the changing colours of a London evening sky
Where: Royal Festival Hall Belvedere Rd, The South Bank Centre, London SE1 8XX, nearest station, Waterloo
Cost: A bottle of wine from around £20, cocktails start from around £7.50
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