Restaurant Review: The Coal Shed, Tower Bridge in London
It’s the general rule here in England that most of the heavy hitters on the restaurant scene have started life by making their name in London before sending their offspring out to work beyond the capital — witness all those branches of The Ivy flinging out Shepherd’s Pies to the provinces in outposts as diverse as Birmingham, Guildford and York. It’s rare for the traffic to flow the other way but that’s what’s happened with one of Brighton’s most successful restaurants, the Coal Shed which has been voted one of the best places to eat in the UK. Hot on the heels of this seaside success story, restauranteur Razak Helalat has taken the bold move of opening an even bigger version of the Coal Shed in the exclusive One Tower Bridge development next door to the iconic river crossing…and around the corner from yet another branch of The Ivy.
As soon as you step inside the Coal Shed, just a few steps from the quirkily cool glass cityscape of More London, you’re in no doubt as to what the speciality of the house is. The smell of prime beef hits you full in the face like a charging heifer. There are some interesting fish dishes on the menu, and a couple of token nods to the vegetarians among us, but let’s be straight: here, the carnivore reigns supreme. There’s plenty to choose from a range of 35-day dry-aged Scottish steaks from the North Highlands that have been cooked on hot coals, hence the name of the place.
My starter of Smoked Short Rib with peanut, chilli and spring onion (£9) made me pleased that my teenage flirtation with vegetarianism lasted only one day (until the smell of frying bacon sandwiches assailed my nostrils the following morning). The rib melted on the tongue with barely any effort and came with a moreish sweet, tangy sauce that gave it an almost Indonesian taste, not unlike beef rendang.
For the serious business of main courses, the steak sizes and cuts available are displayed on a chalk board next to the long, wide glass window that lets diners see straight into the busy but orderly kitchen. There’s also a hugely tempting Smoked Spiced Goat to share (£50) that comes served with zatar flat breads and a whole host of Moroccan-style accompaniments, or a Black Angus Steak burger (£14) with bourbon relish. Preferring a lighter option (who am I kidding?) I chose a 200g Fillet Steak (£28) and sides of beef dripping chips (£4) and a Baby Gem lettuce (£3) with blue cheese and cured egg. At this price, all in, it wasn’t what you’d call dirt cheap but it was possibly the finest bit of dead animal I’ve eaten this side of South America. Tender, cooked exactly to my specification (which, in my case, is barely cooked at all) and paired with a garlicky Chimichurri sauce that really brought out the high quality of the meat. At the manager Tatiana’s suggestion, I washed it down with an excellent red Durif from Southeastern Australia (£32 a bottle) which tasted far more expensive than it was.
For dessert, in addition to the usual mousses, parfait and cheese selections, the Coal Shed offer a range of what they call ‘sweets’ – miniature versions of old school classics such as fudge, toasted marshmallow (mine came in a mango flavour) and good ol’ fashioned jammy doughnuts.
Service was brisk and professional. Wood panelling all around lends a slight clubby atmosphere that is at odds with the jauntily angled neon tubes suspended above the tables, meaning that the Coal Shed is as suitable for a hushed business lunch as it is for a romantic dinner or get-together with friends. They offer a very keenly priced pre-theatre menu (£20 for two courses, £24 for three), ideal for the new Bridge Theatre a few doors down. A nice touch is that if you can’t fit it all in before the curtain rises, they’ll let you return after the show to finish off your meal.
More London is an area that has been getting ever more popular over the years, benefitting from its cool south bank location with great views of Tower Bridge. Throughout the year, there are live screenings of sports events and free performances in the outside amphitheatre. There’s even an urban beach with deck-chairs laid out in the summer months. The Coal Shed brings yet another excellent reason to visit this vibrant part of the river.
Address: One Tower Bridge, 4 Crown Square, London SE1 2SE / 020 3384 7272