Good food under the arches

56-58 Tooley Street, SE1 2SZ
Tel: 020 7403 6388
Cost per person without wine: £25

RECLAIMING still another part of London Bridge’s arches (in a former strip club) are restaurateur Tony McKinlay and his farmer friend, Barnaby Butterfield, with a “gate to plate” concept venue that’s part bar and part restaurant.

First impressions suggest an All Bar One or Corney and Barrow-style joint: post-work young-ish suits and City women without the Mayfair or Square Mile gloss jostling with grungier types, swigging beer in tight social groups. The interior is generic pared-down wood that results in a very noisy atmosphere, and the cramped corridor-shaped space of the bar area doesn’t help.

But any ideas of All Bar One vanish once you delve into the food and drink. I waited at the crowded bar for what seemed like ages while a studious barman mixed a really excellent cocktail, called Sagacious Zest, made of orange and sage gin, Cointreau, lemon and egg white for a mere £8, served in something resembling a mini brandy glass. Very cute. Lining the bar was the paraphernalia of good bartending: vials of bitters and extracts; interesting fresh-looking fruits and garnishes.

Dangling from the ceiling is a giant “reclaimed mirror” disco ball, which gives misplaced air of abandon to what seemed a solid post-work drinking and eating hole. But Platform is licensed until 3AM so perhaps it comes into its own later. Anyway, we skirted the ball’s disconcerting halo of refracted light and headed up the stairs to the dining room.

It’s no beauty – it feels half finished somehow, or furnished wrongly; tables are at odd intervals in an odd-shaped room with very little character or charm and again, that suggestion of All Bar One blandness.

The “gate-to-plate” concept comes into its own here, or is supposed to, as this is where diners see the results of the delivery of whole fresh carcasses from Barnaby Butterfield’s farm (eg great cuts of meat, including unusual ones such as forequarter cuts). Sadly on our visit – Platform had only been open a week – the menu was sparse, and the only showings of meat were in a hamburger, a pie, a lamb dish and a chicken leg special. The waitress wasn’t sure quite where all the famous meat was, but at least the menu was honest. Stock issues on the farm perhaps.

So we went for a plate of whitebait and a bowl of pea and ham soup to start with. Both were extremely generous servings, and with them, the restaurant again drew away from the dreary suggestion of its underwhelming interior and entered the “really quite solid Best of British” arena. The whitebait was potent and zesty and even a bit meaty, while the pea and ham soup was like a puree, so thick it was with veg, and had large chunks of fibrous pink ham floating in it. There was nothing weak or watery about this one: it trumpeted its ingredients, and the thick wheat bread and butter that came with it (always a good test) elevated it still further.

The special of chicken leg confit was well-executed, served with chickpea and chorizo stew. But the standout was the Wiltshire trout I had, presumably from the area’s famous trout source the River Test (the waitress wasn’t sure, but perhaps that was a detail too far to ask). It was squeaky clean and super delicate but packed a punch with some salty cooked greens wedged underneath and a tremendous buttery crust. Really knockout. The thick chips – triple or quadruple or sextuple goose fat cooked by the taste of them – were the best I’ve had in a good year or two.

And pudding was just what you’d expect with a menu like this: in my case a big wodge of oaty Bakewell Tart (what’s not to love?) and in my friends’ case, a superlative pear and rhubarb crumble with just the right amount of crunch and kick from the rhubarb.

Once Platform’s menu settles down and there’s more meat, its strengths will come to the fore properly. As it is, the food and drink shows much promise. For a post-work beer or cocktail it’s also a great bet (it was amazingly busy for having been open so short a time), but for an elegant or even a chic place to eat, this is probably not the place to choose. An atmosphere that was less wine bar chain and more gastropub would work better and be less confusing.

St John meets All Bar One in this well-meaning restaurant-bar. A young crowd, nice drinks and really good “gate-to-plate” food (emphasis on meat) recoups some points lost for a charmless – and slightly random-feeling – interior.