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Monday 23 August 2010

London Restaurant Reviews - Skylon

Brazil Festival and Jose Barattino @ Skylon

Going to the Southbank brings back memories of my college days in London in the early 90's - I had no money, and like many other university students, I scraped a living working in bars, shops or doing odd jobs. The Royal Festival Hall became a regular haunt then because of its free Jazz on Fridays and other events, and also for its well priced pints and good cafeteria food.

Built in 1951 as an exhibition and music venue for post-war Britain, the Royal Festival Hall has been a focal point for music and cultural events in London ever since. Following a £91m refurbishment of the hall and surrounding area between 2005-07, the area has now been transformed and the Hall's 1950 features sympathetically restored.

The D & D London group of restaurants, of Quaglino's and Bluebird fame, joined forces in this project to create Skylon, a single space that incorporates a stunning raised cocktail bar, a fine dining restaurant and an all-day grill. The menu is modern European with a strong British influence.

As part of the Brazil Festival at the Southbank this summer, Jose Barattino (the award-winning head chef of Hotel Emiliano in São Paulo) was invited to Skylon to introduce his modern interpretation of some of Brazil's best loved dishes, and so I went there to meet him.

My student days are long behind me and now cocktails at Skylon is one of my favourite London things to do - the raised bar gives you a great view of the surrounding restaurant and the Southbank and Thames below; it is the perfect place to soak up the elegant atmosphere of the place and for people-watching. I was pleased to see a selection of Brazilian-inspired cocktails devised by Skylon's mixologists, and Barattino's accompanying bar food on the menu.

For cocktails, I went for "Delicia" which was made from Leblon cachaca (Brazilian sugar cane spirit), Chartreuse liquor and muddled fresh strawberries and lemon. Dr G opted for "Terra Samba", served in a snifter glass, it was also made from cachaca, passoa liquor, passion fruit and fresh lime. Both drinks were priced @ £10.50 and were exceptionally well executed with some vibrant flavours.

Rather like in Spain or Portugal, in Brazil alcohol is never drunk without food. The bar food at Skylon was an excellent representation of what is served in Brazil and included "Pastel de Bacalhau" (deep fried salt-cod dumplings), "Pao de Queijo com Pernil" (cheese bread with pulled pork), "Coxinha de Frango com Catupiry" (deep fried potato dumplings with shredded chicken and cream cheese), and "Torresmo" (Brazilian style crispy pork belly).

These dishes are ubiquitous in Brazil and found from the simplest ("boteco" bars) to the most expensive eateries in the country. It was interesting to see Barattino's take on such popular dishes, and appreciate these very familiar and delicious flavours in London.

On my visit during the first week of the Festival and whilst Barattino was resident at Skylon, only the fine dining menu was available to the public at £40 and £45 for two or three courses respectively. Surprisingly, the options were in my opinion less interesting than the ones from the Skylon Grill menu which were priced at £20 and £25 for two or three courses and only available a week later. To view Skylon Grill's menu, click here.

Dr G and I shared the two available options which were "Legumes Assados com Emulsao de Castanha do Brasil" (roasted vegetables with Brazil nut sauce) and "Cordeiro Assado com Especiarias Brasileiras, Quirera de Milho e Mel Nativo" (roasted lamb with Brazilian spices, corn meal and native honey).

Both dishes were beautifully presented and delicious with very distinctive flavours. I loved the corn meal which I ate many times in Brazil as a child (mingau de fuba). It is similar to soft polenta but has a strong corn flavour and coarser texture. It was a perfect accompaniment to the deliciously tender and well seasoned lamb. I found Barattino a highly talented chef - few can bring such modest ingredients into their cooking and make them taste good and feel right in a sophisticated dish like the one I had.

From the bar menu, I also ordered a "Escondidinho de Carne Seca" (Shredded jerk beef "hidden" under a layer of cassava cream gratin) @ £7.50. I love "cassava or manioc" which was brought to Brazil by Africans and the Portuguese in the 16th century and cannot recommend it enough as an alternative to potatoes. It makes for the most fantastic chips and mash. In this dish, the cassava is creamed and combines beautifully with the salty meat underneath. This is one of the dishes I make sure to eat whenever I visit Brazil.

For dessert, we had a "Torta de Banana com Sorbet de Açai" (warm banana torte with "Açai" sorbet). I love any desserts with bananas in it, but the real surprise for me was the Açai sorbet.

Açai is a berry from the Açai palm tree which grows abundantly in the Brazilian rainforest. It perishes within one day and is 10% skin/pulp and 90% seed, and therefore large quantities are required to make any useful quantity. It is rich in anti-oxidants and omega fats and is very nutrient dense. Many healthy claims are being made about Açai as a "super food" including weight loss but I would approach this with scepticism. It has a dark purplish colour and tastes like blueberries and chocolate.

To accompany our meal, we sampled a selection of "Miolo" wines from "Vale dos Vinhedos" in Brazil. "Vale dos Vinhedos" is in the southernmost Brazilian estate of "Rio Grande do Sul". It has a much cooler climate than other northern estates and it is where most Italians and Germans immigrating to Brazil settled. It is no surprise then that "Vale dos Vinhedos" is where the best Brazilian wineries are found.

Most European grapes are grown in "Vale dos Vinhedos" including merlot, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, and chardonnay. Miolo's sparkling wines follow the "Champenoise Methode" (second fermentation in bottle) and their wines have been garnering some national and international awards lately. These wines can only be purchased in the UK through Coe Vintners and Bibendum Wines. Miolo is considered to produce the best Brazilian wines, and is my wine producer of choice whenever in Brazil.

I was very pleased with my Brazilian meal at Skylon and for the opportunity to meet Jose Barattino who came out of the kitchen to introduce himself. He was incredibly enthusiastic about the opportunity to show his cooking in the UK, and was rather charming and unassuming.

Skylon Restaurant - http://www.skylonrestaurant.co.uk/
Southbank Centre, Belvedere Rd, London, SE1 8XX
(020) 7654 7800

Cost: £20 and £25 (Skylon Grill) or £40 and £45 (Skylon Restaurant) for two/three course meals. Cocktails are priced at £10.50. The Brazilian menu is only available until 5th September 2010.
Likes: fantastic cocktails, great location with one of the best views of London, classic 1950's elegance makes me feel like I am on the set of " A Single Man".

Dislikes: despite the comprehensive wine list, there are no bottles below £21.

Verdict: I can think of few London restaurants that would rise to the challenge of cooking fine dining Brazilian food with such aplomb. Skylon has got it right - from the cocktails, to the choice of wine and menu, and all at reasonable prices. I can't wait to return. Highly recommended.

Skylon on Urbanspoon


  1. Must have been a pleasure to meet a talented chef from Brazil here in London to show off Brazilian food!

  2. That cornmeal and lamb looks fantastic. I had a terrific creamy polenta dish on the weekend (at Polpetto) and I can't stop thinking about it - this just reminded me of it again! Is acceptable to eat it for breakfast? Have only been to Skylon for drinks and agree it's really fun, with great views.

  3. Lovely post! I love how you and Dr G go for these lovely meal feasts - the lobster one at Bierodrome and this Brazilian one, what fun you have :)

    I LOVE Skylon too. I went there on a toptable deal with a friend and we found it very Sex and the City, and then with a boy for a romantico evening. Great food, lovely wine and cocktails, and fantatic view.

    You should also try the Blueprint Cafe at the Design Museum - food not as great and much lighter & airier (so not as romantic) but great views over the Thames too...

    Sasha x

  4. I am so glad u posted such a good review of Skylon. Of all the restaurants I had ever been to in my life (and I had been to quite a number over these few decades of decadent living :-)), I rate Skylon as NUMBER 1 for service. There is a story behind this. Couple of years back, I accumulated enough points on top table to qualify for free meals for 2 at Skylon. I booked for my free meal on top table and brought my wife with me. Upon arrival at Skylon, the front desk informed me that they have no records of my booking and my free meal offer. However, they sat us down at the bar with a complimentary drink while they called Top Table to check. 10 minutes later, the manager came over and apologised that they could not get anybody at Top Table. Since they cannot confirm my booking, I was just glad to be able to get a table as it was a Friday evening. Surprisingly, the manager proceeded to honour the booking as he believed in my story. The next day, I checked with Top Table and they told me that they had a computer glitch and none of their restaurants were able to verify and booking. I was really well impressed by the way the manager handled the situation. So people, if you want a great night out with good food, great bar and great service, Skylon is the place. They will be crowed so book in advance.

  5. @ Kavey - it was indeed, and Jose was also very unassuming and a nice guy too.

    @ Greedy Diva - I think polenta is normally a lunch or dinner accompaniment in Italy, but i can't see why you could not have it for breakfast if you want to! Have you tried polenta chips? It is my favourite.

    @ Sasha - thanks for the recommendation Sasha, I have only seen the Design Museum from the outside whenever I went to Le Pont de la Tour nearby, I will make sure to check it out next time I visit the area.

    @ Martin Ng - thanks for sharing that story Martin, what great customer service!

  6. i went here once. a man shouted at me. i never returned. v much enjoyed your post, however.

  7. Nice post about the restaurant London.


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