3 Pan Peninsula Square E14 9HN
020 8305 3080, www.tompkins.uk.com
Cost per person without wine: £30
THE day we went to Tompkins, on the ground floor of Docklands’ largest residential tower Pan Peninsula, it was grey and chilly. This was a shame, since there is an impressive riverside terrace where suits relaxing from a big day at the Wharf are meant to kick back with their gin and tonics and shoot the financial breeze before heading inside for good wine and top grub. A warm and sunny evening would have set the scene well.
Instead of lingering outdoors, we quickly ducked inside, slipping out of the gaze of the skyscrapers and the undulating DLR, and found ourselves somewhere rather unexpected. Books, nick nacks and other homely flotsam form at least 50 per cent of the look at Tompkins, perhaps in reference to its location inside a residential block. Still, if this is meant to be your kitchen away from home, it’s pretty glamorous. Huge river-facing windows, extremely high windows and a mezzanine all add minimalist chic.
First, we sat up at the bar, facing a huge display cabinet with quirky bits and bobs in it. If felt almost Bohemian – if such a thing is possible in the shadows of towering banks. But the cocktails, which you’d expect to be excellent in a place that has modelled itself on the hip diners of NYC, were disappointing. Sickly sweet with made-from-concentrate flavours (mine was neon yellow, my friend’s was hot pink), we soon hurried back to the safety of wine, to the clear irritation and offence of the barman.
We had a table by the window and lost ourselves in the view, which is thrillingly futuristic. That’s not to say the menu didn’t draw the eye too – it did, with its lucky-dip approach to modern dining. Lobster bisque jostled with sardine pate, goat’s cheese salad and chicken liver; meanwhile mains include the requisite “grill” section; a hefty pasta section; and plat du jour and seafood platter lists too.
Luckily, my companion is a good eater and he did our table proud by ordering a starter, pasta and grill dish. His pea and ham soup was a great effort, with large, fibrous strips of pig floating through a thick, green soup that clearly came from peas (not tins). My lobster bisque was also tasty, rich and sweet with a dash of brandy.
Rhodri’s herb and mascarpone risotto was a grainy rice pat oozing herby flavour, and enriched – not weighed down – by the cheese. I ate more of it than he did, feeling sudden greed. His 28 day-old fillet steak was a fair attempt at a NY-style beef but not remarkable (would the herb-crusted one with marrow have been better?). The chips were great, though. My wiener schnitzel made from milk-fed veal and served with spinach was a bit average – people get very touchy about their schnitzel and this one would probably have left such people slightly cold. I found it hard to discern a particular taste and the batter was too bready and not puffy enough, but it was still pretty nice in a fried sort of way.
Desserts were surprisingly limited considering the scope of the menu. We had a perfectly fine crème brulee and a seriously good chocolate fondant with pistachio cream. Other choices were underwhelming: raspberry cheesecake, sorbet, passion fruit tart.
It’s hard to know with a menu as vast and conceptually baggy as this one whether dishes like the schnitzel are specialties or just more choice on a choice-filled menu. On balance, though, Tompkins is a good thing. It’s got everything you need: a terrace, two bars, great views and a convenient setting. And even if the steak isn’t quite up to New York standards, the spirit of choice on the menu is deeply American. If you’re looking for a friendly, tasty one-size-fits-all restaurant, this is a good bet.