Sure, we all love to slag off London (cc: eye-watering rents, £8 pints, buskers that sound like they’re permanently haunted by the ghost of Ed Sheeran’s childhood) but there is no denying that The Kinks were speaking on behalf of all Londoners when they sang ‘as long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset, I am in paradise’. That’s right, a brilliant amber sunset over the river and even the most downtrodden, miserable Londoner will pause, forget about ‘that fucking umbrella’ they left on the N171, and smile.
This small stretch of the city is not only home to views that are so good they’ll melt the heart of anyone who’s paying 8 million quid per month to live in a shared shoebox ft. mould, it’s also got world-renowned theatres and galleries. Of course, there’s also a whole lot of naff chain restaurants in this area, but with our guide you can enjoy all that Southwark and Bankside has to offer alongside spicy Thames-side pizzas, Carlingford oysters, and cocktails at these great independent spots. Fingers crossed for an excellent sunset.
Carlingford oysters, panoramic views, and great cocktails served in mugs that look like distant relatives of Zazu from The Lion King. What more could you possibly want from a restaurant? Arguably, excellent lobster, but guess what? This hyper-glam spot on the 14th floor of The Hoxton hotel has got that covered too. Although those elaborate cocktail vessels and boujie cushions might be giving you the impression that this is somewhere you spend a night purely dedicated to posting thirst-traps on your socials with the food as an afterthought, we promise the seafood dishes are actually great and it’s one of the best oyster experiences you can have in London. Also, just look at that terrace.
You’re strolling around Bankside with a group of friends, when one person declares they want a quick bite, another says they want a full-on brunch, another says they really only want coffee, and yet another just wants to get boozed up. Caravan will take care of it. Brunches here are legendary, and it’s civilised enough for an informal meeting if you work in the area. It’s also perfectly set up for massive groups, in case your entire office forgot to organise the HR assistant's leaving lunch and you’re looking for something last minute.
The Anchor and Hope is one of London’s original and best gastropubs, and your plan A if you’re going to be in the area for a while (say, waiting for a show at the Old or Young Vic theatres). As both the bar and restaurant serve full food menus, it’s an excellent solution to every situation in this part of town, from your mate who insists on a drink everywhere you go (shots at Legoland? No thanks) to your slightly annoying friend who thinks they’re a Michelin chef because they once baked some camembert. If you want to sit at a proper table, put your name down for dinner and neck a couple of pints at the bar - the food is worth the wait, and it’s an indisputable fact that any theatre production is immeasurably improved after a few cold ones.
Gourmet Pizza Co.
We respect restaurants that have simple, straightforward names. If it works for Heinz baked beans, it’ll work for a great, little pizza spot on the Thames. An old-school pizzeria that's been serving the good people of South Bank for over 25 years, you can expect classics like lasagne and calamari but really you’re here for their long list of top pizzas. We’re talking a hot honey and Gran Milano meat fest, a mushroom and pine nut number with excellent crunch-factor, and the fiery chilli Manzo that comes complete with perfectly roasted peppers. If it’s sunny, a casual bottle of wine should also be on your order for peak Capri feels.
Even though Caravan has set up shop a couple of minutes away, The Table still has arguably the best brunch and lunch (not to mention coffee) in the area. Beloved by locals and office workers, the food here is all about the holy lunch trinity of soups, salads, and sandwiches. There’s also a changing daily special on the menu and a nice list of burgers, and though it’s always busy, it gets a little quieter in the afternoon. True to its function as a local lunch spot, The Table shuts around 4pm most days, but you can hit it up for dinner and drinks until 9pm on Thursday and Friday.
Oxo Tower Restaurant
The OXO Tower is one of those restaurants that you’ve probably always had written on that list of restaurants you will one day go to but realistically, never do. Because, pubs and Nandos. But this restaurant is a skyline icon with a boujie reputation and for good reason. Yes, it is predictably expensive but the food is great in that fine-dining, truffle-packed menu kind of way. The real highlight here is the seafood - shoutout to their monster scallops and native lobster - the views, and the white table clothes that make it perfect for a big-deal anniversary or celebratory dinner.
We simply live for the theatre. The costumes, the heart wrenching monologues, the skilled actors. Or maybe, just maybe, we just really fucking love a theatre bar. Our favourite on South Bank is The Understudy at The National Theatre, thanks to its large range of draught beers, top views across the river, and total lack of any pretentious fanfare. Basically, it’s just a really lovely place to be. Inside has that slightly industrial drinking den thing going on, but during the summer you’ll want to be out on their huge terrace that feels like a European pavement party on a sunny evening. As certified spontaneous messes, we also love that this place pretty much always has room for walk-ins. If you’re more of an organised drinker then know that they also take bookings for parties of six and more, which yes, does make this place perfect for a round of birthday drinks on a glorious summer’s day.
Super popular with the lunchtime crowd, the collection of hole-in-the-wall places at this railway arch is a great addition to the food options in this area, especially away from the river. Southeast Asian cooks Ekachai make the best char kway teow (spicy Malaysian noodles) we’ve tasted in London as well as a good shiu mai dumpling and amazing buttermilk pancakes at sit-down restaurant Where The Pancakes Are. Be warned - lunchtime service closes at 3pm, before opening again for dinner at 6pm.
Macellaio does incredibly tender, Italian-style steaks cooked simply on a hot grill and served with just a bit of rock salt and olive oil. It’s unlikely that you’ll be popping in for a casual lunch that often, but it’s good for a payday throw-down or low-key celebration (like getting a tiny raise you wish to spend on steak). The menu also features excellent cicchetti (starters) as well as banging pastas, all of which you should order because who actually enjoys creamed spinach?
Like that person you’d happily swipe right for in the midst of the Sunday scaries but not necessarily take home to mum and dad, ’O ver’s location on a dead stretch of Southwark Street pretty much means that it’s never going to be a long term commitment kind of place. But for a casual quickie, it’s pretty much perfect. The Naples-style pizzas here are very good and they also happen to make an excellent spritz, in case you need to take the edge of before you head back to the museum/your desk.
Have you ever eaten houmous on The Cut by Southwark station? Chances are you were either eating a dodgy caramelised onion number you smuggled into The Young Vic from the Sainsbury’s opposite, or you were at this neighbourhood’s go-to Turkish restaurant, Tas. This proper family-feel spot is permanently packed with Anatolian-wine-fuelled birthday parties, couples grabbing some cold mezze before a show, or several generations catching up over a feast of musakka and kofte. Their popularity is partially down to how good everything from their dolma to tender karides are, but it’s also because they’ve got several affordable set menus to choose from, including a two-courses for £15 option. Oh, and that houmous? Fantastic.
You may have walked past Sea Containers already, and probably recognise it as that immaculately shiny restaurant with pretty patio seats as you walk between the Tate and the Royal Festival Hall. There are plenty of places to go for a nice occasion along the river (most of them are abysmal, let’s be honest) and while no-one will ever have a hankering for the food here, it’s shiny enough that it feels occasion-worthy. As it’s attached to the Mondrian hotel, this spot is also used to catering for a wide audience and a variety of food allergies and intolerances, so it’s a good restaurant to have in your back pocket for a tough crowd. Oh, and we once stood next to Damien Hirst in the loos here. Do with that information what you will.
Sometimes a restaurant weaves its way into your heart for eternity. For full disclosure, you should know that this tiny Chinese restaurant is one of those places for us due to its close proximity to our student halls. Tears were shed here, kisses we thoroughly regret happened outside, and biblical hangovers were nursed at the back table over a quarter crispy duck with pancakes. It’s very much a casual affair and permanently packed with local students, but when it comes to a quickfire meal in the area involving seaweed, crispy duck, and their winning beef with black bean sauce for £16, it’s perfect.
Forgive us readers for we have sinned. We must confess that this majestic pub is from a chain that rhymes with tongues (it’s Young’s, for total clarity), but despite not being an independent, we can’t help but rate this pub. Not only does it have some of the best views of St Paul’s in London, it also directly overlooks the little beaches along the Thames when the river is low. The food is undeniably bang average, but you can’t beat a classic bowl of fluffy, chunky chips and an ice cold pint here in the summer.
Whenever the weather gets semi-nice, everyone gets the completely original idea to go get a pint after work on the river. If you too are being pulled by the undeniable craving for riverside sunshine, then a good option is The Swan, where you can get a cold pint without having to wait ages to be served. The Swan is also totally devoid of the Wetherspoons-y vibe that pervades so many chain pubs, so you can feel slightly smug while you sip your Guinness, and there’s also a decent outdoor seating area in case the pub-meets-nice bar decor is too plush for you. They do food, but stick with a pint of prawns and a scotch egg if you don’t want a full dinner.
The Royal Festival Hall is a fitting setting for the second outpost of Spiritland, the music-focussed restaurant and bar. As with their King’s Cross location, this spot is moodily lit and full of a wide-spanning menu that jumps from sweet and sour pork belly to a kohlrabi, orange, and fennel salad. The drinks menu is extensive, which is perfect for when someone is on the decks in the evening, and the kind of experimental but all-encompassing menu makes it a good call for a date night or a group hang. They’re also open until the early hours but be sure to call ahead as we’ve turned up here late before to find they’ve closed.
Please note, Spiritland is currently closed due to the ongoing pandemic.
Like seeing a miniature poodle trying to hump a Rottweiler’s leg, it’s a bit strange to see one of the city’s better ramen restaurants next to a Pret on the ground floor of a very grey office block, but thankfully it hasn’t made any difference to the quality of the food. Tonkotsu Bankside is one of the best ramen spots in town, and they have a good-quality lunch special if you’re not particularly hungry or pushed for time. Get an order of the chicken kara-age along with your soup or forever regret it.