I may have been handicapped by knowing the building previously as an office block but even the name Sea Containers at Mondrian has a corporate ring that makes the heart sink.
The food though is far, far better than you’d expect from a hotel restaurant with some original and delicious dishes devised by New York chef Seamus Mullen of Tertulia who has been brought in as a consultant.
We arrived late for lunch by which time the vast dining room was half empty. This is obviously a place used for business lunches by nearby office workers (there’s a 3 course deal at £24)
Our waitress arrived to explain the ‘concept’ which was ‘sharing’ (gah!) but there were enough tempting “seasonally contemplated” dishes to make us over-order.
The first wave was in many ways the best: a cracking kale, apple and pecan salad (recipe here) which would convert any kale-loather and which we liked so much we insisted on keeping to hand for the whole meal; some delicious smoky 'charred eggplant’ with mint labneh and dates (right) and a plate of artfully draped salmon ‘crudo with fennel and dill yoghurt. By the time we’d scoffed that lot we were already full.
We’d dithered over whether to order the smoked and roasted cornfed chicken (below) on the basis that two gals didn’t need to eat a whole chicken but a charred lemon vinaigrette had sold it. We did have it with braised greens and mushrooms rather than chips or mash which made it slightly more virtuous but made more inroads on it than we’d intended. (The slightly bitter lemon vinaigrette is a winner and great with the light Morellino di Scansano we were drinking)
We were less keen on the flatbread with sobrassado, a rather ungenerous pizza with slow cooked egg yolks (bleugh) perched on top but it was the only duff dish of the meal.
We managed - God knows how - to find room for a dessert - well, rude not to really with a pear soufflé for two with an extra shot of poire william on offer. A splendidly posh fine dining pudding you wouldn’t have expected to find in a relatively casual restaurant like this.
Other plusses and minuses: a decent but quite pricey wine by the glass selection (most of the interesting ones about £10-12 a glass but well served at the right temperature in proper glasses). Slightly scatty service. A request for bread totally threw them - and when it finally arrived it looked like the toasted leftovers from breakfast. Flatbread apart, I don’t think they ‘do’ bread*. Slightly annoying background music.
By and large though Sea Containers was much better than I expected in a dramatic room with stunning views overlooking the Thames and St Paul’s. Cosy it ain’t but it’s a great place to eat if you’re staying (by no means true of all hotel restaurants), to take visitors to London, especially at night or even lunch with a greedy girlfriend … If we’d stuck to those 3 first courses and a glass of wine it would only have cost £20-odd a head.
I ate as a guest of Sea Containers at Mondrian. I’m guessing the full bill would have been more like £60 a head if you ate a normal amount of food.
Sea Containers at Mondrian is at 20 Upper Ground, London, SE1 9PD. Tel: +44 (0)20 3747 1000. It's open on a Sunday which is useful.
* Borne out by the title of Mullen’s book: Hero Food: How Cooking with Delicious Things Can Make Us Feel Better,”