We review Counter restaurant in Vauxhall and discover an edgy New York-style brasserie that’s making us want more…
I wouldn’t normally head out to Vauxhall for dinner. It’s always been that stop on the Victoria line that I overlook. I associate it with queues of traffic crossing the river, a busy bus terminal packed with scurrying commuters, and a nightlife that’s all about the gay scene. Plus, I think many will agree, it could do with a a bit of TLC. A cool new place to eat perhaps?
Cue Counter – a French-American brasserie that was built into the Vauxhall arches six months ago, which might just mark the start of a new, improved restaurant scene just south of the river. It’s cool, it’s edgy, its doors are from 7am until late (8am at weekends). And its steak is bloody good.
Oh, and it’s the longest bar in London.
BC and I arrived on a Wednesday night and I spotted the colourful ‘graffitied’ exterior moments after stepping out of the tube station. Once inside this cool cavern, there’s a friendly welcome from the staff at the front desk and the restaurant beams at you with a warm orange glow, thanks to the artistic lighting that frames the bar.
It sounds cliché, but it’s very ‘New York-y’. The edgy exterior feels like you’re heading into an achingly hip club in the Meatpacking District. The booths offer a hint of American diner. And the soft lighting and smartly dressed staff – who glide around with espresso martinis – give it a sleek (but not pretentious) feel.
The artistic lighting in the immediate entrance (where you can perch and sip cocktails) was futuristic and surrounded by mirrored walls. And the music – a mix of funk, soul and disco – was fun (and yes brilliantly, a little bit camp) but not too cheesy to put you off. It instantly added a happy vibe to my otherwise mundane hump day. I could tell I was going to enjoy this night.
We took a seat in one of the booths that face the bar and ordered the terrine and scallops.
The terrine here, made up of chicken and pork has been named as one of the Top 3 terrines in London – Because What Rebecca Seal says is obviously gospel. And with its recent addition of broad beans and tangy redcurrent chutney, it was a stand-out beginning to the meal.
While I really appreciate the subtley of scallops, this night, I’d have loved a slightly more impactful seasoning of these mild little shellfish. That said, they were cooked to perfection and the bed of fennel purée was elegant and fabulously presented. So far so good.
A Brooklyn East India Pale Ale and excellent glass of white from their selection of French and American wines were the tipples of choice. Our waiter was a pleasure to talk to. (A little bird told us that some night’s he’s not). And he took great pleasure in telling us about that evening’s specials. In short, he was eager to please.
Alas, he didn’t warn BC that the ‘blackened chicken’ was going to be on the firey side. But hey, we’ll forgive him. The presentation here is well above the norm and the portion size is fantastic. As for the blacked chicken; apart from that more-than-sparing application of chilli heat, it was quite well-cooked, very flavoursome and accompanied by delicious rainbow carrot shavings. Great stuff.
The steak was incredible. At first I was annoyed at myself for not owning up to my fear of mushrooms. So I was slightly apprehensive when my dish arrived with a whopper of a shroom that covered the full surface area of the fillet.
Determined to let go of my irrational aversion for just another vegetable, I sliced into it and gave it a go.
The steak was so tender and oozing with gorgeous charcoal and meaty flavours, the mushroom managed to almost melt into it. It was seeped in a heavenly café de Paris butter and sat on a bed of juicy green beans.
I ate the whole lot, avec mushroom. Now that’s a first.
It’s at this point, I didn’t think this meal could get any better when we delved into some sides. I ordered them more out of greed than anything else but the mac n cheese balls were heaven in the mouth.
Crispy on the outside and soft and squidgy on the inside like an arancini ball, I fell into silence at the deliciousness of these things. The dip was made from a mayonnaise flavoured with chipotle sauce. Wow, what a combination. It SO works. The fries were fantastic too.
Desserts were ordered purely out of gluttony. And in hindsight, we probably should have stopped there. The Mississippi Mud Pie was a meal in itself and while I could quite easily indulge in the gooeyness of this in front of a film on a Friday night, it didn’t quite reach the refinement I was expecting after such stand out courses which preceded. Nor did the strawberry tartlet, which disappointingly, didn’t seem to taste at all home-made (I may be wrong). Perhaps it was the kid’s party-style presentation that put me off.
At the end of our meal, the manager, who I believe has worked in Ramsay’s restaurants (I do recall he said Maze) kindly showed us BackCOUNTER, the adjoining bar known as Counter’s ‘little gay brother’. It was a pretty cool space.
Vauxhall may have been the underdog when it comes to the food. But Counter may just be about to change things. It’s refined, classy, but without the stuffiness. After all, its little gay brother is responsible for many a cabaret show and wild parties…
For more information, head over to the Counter website. Oh and they do breakfast and brunch too.
Counter, Vauxhall Station, 7-11 South Lambeth Place, London SW8 1SP