"Dine on the Thames in a venerable old steamer"Review Rating: Reviewed by Matthew B
The St. Katherine has had an illustrious past: Churchill had a cigar on the back deck, it has had the Queen on board, and during WWII it was fitted with guns and protected the Medway from the marauding Luftwaffe. Now you can get married on it, join its members’ club or go for a meal in the restaurant.
A steamer built in 1927, it is seeing out its dotage moored up at Temple Pier, roughly opposite the National Theatre and Oxo Tower, and is now renamed as the rather anonymous the Yacht London (why it changed its name from the St. Katherine I’m not sure).
I’ve been to a few of these permanently moored venue boats over the years, and this is certainly one of the nicer ones - some of the others are a bit tatty. The Yacht has been given a new lick of paint and a makeover to return to its 1930s Art Deco-style condition. Since 2008 it has been under new owners who seem to have a genuine pride in the vessel and want it to be as good as it can be.
The engines were taken out some years ago, which is where the restaurant kitchen is now, so it ain’t going anywhere soon. Now called the Gibson Restaurant, it is open for lunch and dinner six days a week, with roasts on Sundays. The restaurant takes up an unfussy low-ceilinged deck with polished wood floors. There is a clean grey and white colour scheme, and crisp white tablecloths.
The first thing one notices when getting on a boat on the Thames is that it moves. Even with no engines and a permanent mooring, there is a bit of bumping and swaying as the wash from passing boats slaps against the bows. After an initial stomach lurch and thoughts of ‘are we going to be able eat our meals?’, you quickly get used to being on the river, which of course is half the point of coming here.
There’s also a smaller function room - more Art Deco than the restaurant - and a top deck fitted out for more drinks and party action, with a bar and DJ system installed. Below deck there’s a loungey member’s area, with comfy sofas and table lamps where you can play on your laptop or have meetings. It’s a nice place for a members’ club; if anything not quite as deluxe as I would have liked, but perhaps I’m asking too much for a 30s boat to look like Claridge’s.
The background music lends the whole thing a slightly retro ambience; we had fun noting Take That, East 17 and Phil Collins songs among others. This is not the trendiest place in town, but it’s not trying to be either. It’s not stiff or stuffy, as we thought it might have been, and guests were having their pictures taken by the waiting staff with the river in the background.
We visited on a Saturday night and our fellow diners were mostly couples - you can see the Gibson being a popular choice for a Valentine’s Day meal. The menu is appealingly solid on paper, with starters at £6 - £10 and mains from £15 - £26. To start we chose the devilled chicken livers in white sauce and the hot mackerel with salmon caviar. Chicken livers were creamy and smooth and a satisfying first dish. The mackerel pate was good but could have had more pepper, and the blobs of salmon were so few as to render them unnoticeable. As the most expensive starter at £9.95, I expected a bit more.
The mains were well portioned - you’re not going to go hungry - and well executed. Sea bass was a lovely piece of fish, and the fennel with cream sauce set it off nicely. My venison medallions were tender and with a touch of pink, with pancetta mousse and Madeira jus. As with the starters I couldn’t help feeling the menu is a bit overpriced. With our mains at £22 and £24 respectively, I’d have liked a bit more of a wow factor in the taste department.
We tried the weird-sounding-but-actually-not-bad apple and mango crumble with lemon sorbet, and a very good warm chocolate brownie with ice cream and chocolate sundae. All in, the cooking at the Yacht isn’t going to win any prizes, but it’s competent enough and all adds up to a nice dining experience on the river.
Ah yes, the river, the main reason for coming here. Who can argue with it as the backdrop to your meal, with the twinkling lights of the Southbank in your field of vision. It was a bit rainy and dark when we went but still very pleasant, so on a nice summer’s eve this will really come into its own.
Matthew B reviewed The Yacht At Temple Pier on Mon 29 Apr 2013