The area between the touristy South Bank area and London Bridge used to be a bona fide urban desert - nothing to do, nothing to see - until the Tate Modern came along years ago. Since then, the area has become filled with tech companies and trendy architecture firms, along with the odd tourist wandering around aimlessly while looking for the Tate or the Globe. We’re glad to be able to say that far from being the backwater it used to be, there are more than a few decent eating and drinking options around to cover a range of bases if you’re working in the area, or just want a good meal after a little culture at the weekend.
Like the girl or guy you’d happily swipe right for 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.
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). The menu also features excellent cicchetti (starters) as well as banging pastas, all of which you should order because who actually enjoys creamed spinach?
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 lady’s leaving lunch and you’re looking for something last minute.
When the weather gets semi-nice, everyone gets the completely original idea to go get a pint after work on the river, often at the Founder’s Arms or one of the rammed pubs along the Thames. Don’t be a dummy - head to 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 to a full dinner.
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 (basically fried chicken nuggets) along with your soup or forever regret it.
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 at 4.30pm most days.
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 Gary) to your slightly annoying ‘foodie’ friend who runs a blog with 48 likes on Facebook. 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 tedious theatre production is immeasurably improved after a few cold ones.
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 you can get ramen with Spanish Iberico pork from Tatami Ramen. There’s also Soho’s Savage Salads with some genuinely good platters of greens for when you want to keep it kind of healthy, 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.
In case you thought Bankside was all new money, bankers, and media wankers, we’re glad to advise that there are still very much traces of old-school Southwark knocking around. Case in point: Frank’s, an old school caff where the tea is ridiculously strong (and vastly improved with two sugars) and where you can get a massive plate of pie and mash and lashings of gravy for under a tenner. This joint probably won’t make Joe Wicks’s hit list any time soon, but it will put some meat on your bones and a grin on your face.
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.
Let’s say that you want to go get a drink somewhere fancy, but you’re done with ‘speakeasies’ and weird GCSE chemistry ingredients in your drink. Rumpus Room is your move. It’s on the 12th floor of the very swish Mondrian hotel, and the view is worth sucking up the price of the expensive drinks for. Book ahead if you’re coming in a group, and you might want to dress up a bit, though we’ve definitely wandered through in Adidas before. The lift to the bar’s in the far corner of the hotel lobby.
Every Thursday and Friday, half of Southwark’s office workers empty into the White Hart to pre-drink before eventually ending up doing Christ know what in the loos at the Builder’s Arms in Hackney. Unlike most of the places we feature, it’s completely hook free - they even have irony-free Foster’s on tap for f*ck’s sake. Don’t come here for dripping on toast or craft ale or whatever pubs have on their menus these days (no, seriously, the Anchor and Hope is five minutes away). Just come here to have a few very cold beers, enjoy some bants, and soak up the weekend vibes.