Picture the scene. It’s a sunny day. The air is flowing gently off the Thames. You’re meeting the girls for lunch. You’ve been snowed under for weeks, Lucy’s covering an absent colleague and Mary’s on the point of quitting over her boss’ abusive behaviour.
Where do you go to get away from it all? Columbia, of course. The restaurant at the cumbersomely named DoubleTree By Hilton Hotel London Docklands Riverside in Rotherhithe makes a decent case for itself.
You get to put clear water between yourself and the Wharf. Thames Clippers runs a cross-river ferry and, for those visiting or staying at the hotel, it’s free.
The journey presents an opportunity to breathe some clean air and look back at the office from distance.
But Lucy, Mary and yourself should heed my warning. By all means pop over for a bottle of wine and some light bar snacks (the £3 pork scratchings with a dip are especially good), just don’t dine in depth.
It’s not the setting. That’s lovely, despite the generous budget for iffy modern art.
Columbia is a warm, bright space that’s relaxing and comfortable for those dining in parties or alone (this is primarily a business hotel after all). It’s not the service either, which is charming, personal and slick.
It’s the food. The menu is almost deliberately bland. Fish and chips, chicken Caesar salad, burgers, steaks – nothing to frighten off the tired and hungry paying guests.
The word “Fuel” may as well have been embossed on the metal-bound volume. That in itself isn’t fatal – it’s perfectly possible to deliver excellent versions of classics. But Columbia fails to do so. It’s all presentation over taste.
My companion’s Devonshire crab on toast appears superb. A boisterous fountain of white meat flakes on a crusty slice. But bite into it and it’s nothing but texture; an under-seasoned timewaster.
My black pudding scotch egg is not much better, the thin bloody shroud doing little to make any impact in the mouth. It’s as if the dish's designer was more concerned with getting a gooey yolk to dribble attractively than its effect on the tongue.
Should yourself, Lucy and Mary be crazy enough to stump up for a main I can’t recommend the lamb rump or the Columbia burger either. The former came doused in what tasted like a shop-bought Tuscan bean soup and with an almost raw fondant potato on the side (£18).
I was glad the cheese and bacon confection (£14) arrived overdone. Its taste and texture was reminiscent of a ready-to-cook patty purchased in Iceland, conjuring images of forgotten packs at the back of freezers. At least the triple-cooked chips were pleasant.
Still, despite the food, I suggest Columbia is one of the best places to enjoy a glass of wine in east London. It boasts superb views of the Wharf and the river and has a decent collection of well-priced bottles starting at £21.
The bottle of Dr L Riesling (£32) imported by the appropriately named Loosen Bros proved a sharp counterpoint to the duff melodies on the plate.
Perhaps Mary, Lucy and yourself could share a bottle and ease those workday woes before heading back to the coal face. Just watch out you’re not seduced into staying further. It’s never a good idea to drink on an empty stomach.
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel London Docklands Riverside, 265 Rotherhithe Street, London, SE16 5HW, 020 7231 1001
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