South Bank, London

The Royal Festival Hall’s flagship restaurant lures with its views, but its new menu is worth lingering over

There’s a risk, on dining in the Royal Festival Hall’s iconic Skylon restaurant, that one might be a little too distracted to focus on the food. In an auditorium somewhere behind us, the London Philharmonic Orchestra is performing Mahler’s Symphony Number 5 in C Sharp Minor. Before us, through those famous floor-to-ceiling windows, lies the glint and glisten of the Thames, the South Bank, below, a conveyer belt of rainbow-clad joggers and arm-in-arm couples. But when the 12-year-old restaurant’s whip-smart, perfectly choreographed staff move into action, nothing can take away from the fact that they are performing a symphony of their own.

A recent menu change has seen a greater emphasis on British heritage cuisine. Credit goes to Finnish chef Helena Puolakka, ex-head chef at Pierre Koffmann’s three-Michelin-starred La Tante Claire, who puts into practice summers spent in Finland ‘foraging, fishing and living off the land’. A starter of Dorset crab on toast is transportive: fresh, light and bringing to mind memories of top-notch coastal dining rooms. A Jerusalem artichoke barigoule sees fine slivers of the star ingredient allowed to shine, a creamy horseradish pearl dotted on each. The mushroom vol-au-vent main is bursting with forest flavour, quail’s eggs’ yolks spilling over the feathery puff pastry, alongside mouthfuls of buttery spinach. The paired wine, Purgatori, a Costers del Segre Spanish red, is served with a colourful story about the monks who once produced it – when barrels ‘vanished’ mysteriously, some said it was the angels taking them to heaven – and perfectly complements the dish’s earthiness. Pan-fried calf’s liver with red onion marmalade and sage is richly rewarding, and shows such Gallic-style attention to detail that, for a moment, it seems it must be the Seine we are looking out over. Sides of green salad and truffle mash are note perfect, though the spiced carrots could do with being a little less English and a lot punchier with that spicing.

We end with a melt-in-the-mouth saffron-poached pear, which arrives in a lake of vanilla custard, before coffees and petits fours bring the curtain down on a masterful performance, itself worthy of a standing ovation. 020 7654 7800,

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